ZAMBIA: Landmark court decision in teacher rape case

On 30 June 2008, the High Court of Zambia reached a decision in favour of a girl known as R.M. who was raped by her teacher at age 13. The decision will have far-reaching implications in ensuring protection for girls from teacher rape, a widespread in Zambia and other countries.

In February 2006, R.M., aged 13, had requested her school papers from her teacher Edward Hakasenke. Hakasenke did not bring the papers to school despite reminders on three separate occasions, then inviting R.M. to collect the papers at his home where he raped her. R.M. was afraid to talk about the incident with anyone at first. She later developed a sexually transmitted infection as a result of the rape and needed help. She confided in two teachers who informed her aunt, who then brought the matter to the attention of the Headmaster. Hakasenke told the Headmaster that R.M. was his “girlfriend.” He later went into hiding and was subsequently briefly detained by the police and was not charged with a criminal offence. At the meeting, the Headmaster told Hakasenke that he had been warned before, referring to a prior relationship with another girl in the school.

In March 2006, through her guardian and pro bono counsel Kelvin Bwalya, R.M. filed a historic civil suit in Zambia. She called for accountability not just from the rapist but also from her school and from the Ministry of Education. R.M. claimed damages from Hakasenke for personal injury and emotional distress. She also demanded that the school be held accountable for negligence, noting that the Headmaster knew that Hakasenke had a history of sexually abusing his students in the school yet had not taken steps to prevent further incidents and effectively protect the girls. R.M. had wanted her case to set a legal precedent so that girls in Zambia will have protection and girls raped by their teachers will have meaningful recourse. To this end her lawsuit called on the Ministry of Education to issue preventive guidelines.

On 30 June 2008, Judge Philip Musonda of the High Court in Lusaka issued his decision awarding R.M. damages worth K45,000,000. Calling the failure of the police to prosecute Hakasenke “a dereliction of duty,” the judge also referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a possible criminal prosecution. He further urged the Ministry of Education to set “regulations, which may stem such acts.” Expanding on the national significance of this case, Faiza Jama Mohamed - Equality Now’s Africa Regional Director - explained, “Although student rape by teachers is common not only in Zambia but regionally, it is still not acknowledged as an issue of wide public concern. 

Equality Now hopes this decision will raise much needed awareness and generate action. They urge the Director of Public Prosecutions to advance a criminal case against Hakasenke. These steps would prove that the Zambian government will no longer tolerate the rape of students by their teachers.” Another noteworthy element in this decision is that it cites and incorporates the standards set in the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which Zambia ratified on 2 May 2006.

Equality Now is an international human rights organisation that works to protect and promote the civil, political, economic and social rights of girls and women. In 2007 Equality Now launched the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF) in order to address the unique human rights abuses that adolescent girls in Africa face. The Fund supports and publicises strategically selected legal cases (including R.M.’s) that represent critical efforts to keep girls safe at home, safe in the school and safe in the community.

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