Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violation in the world today.
It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.
Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.
Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and even death.
This week, Rwanda took its fight against sexual abuse further and released a list of 322 convicted sex offenders to the public.
The registry will help law enforcement and justice to track repeat offenders and contribute wherever background information is required about a particular individual for administrative and legal reasons.
The list consists of only perpetrators who have been convicted of sex offences by the courts irrevocably. They have been sentenced from five years to life imprisonment.
The announcement came as Rwanda joined the world to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child on Monday October 11. Yet, despite ongoing efforts to curb gender based violence, cases remain on the rise, worryingly among children.
Rwanda has been registering a rise in reported sexual abuse crimes and teenage pregnancies. According to public prosecution, the number of reported sexual abuse cases increased 3,793 complaints in 2019 to 5,292 complaints in 2020.
However, the number of people convicted of the crimes remains small, 1281 in 2020 and 1426 in 2021. According to official statistics, 17,849 underage girls were impregnated in 2016 alone. The number slightly eased to 17, 337 in 2017 before jumping to 19,832 in 2018. From January to August 2019, teenage pregnancies increased to 15,696, which translates to an average of 1,962 a month.
These are not just numbers. Beyond these numbers are human beings whose future have been damaged. While efforts by the justice system to bring suspects to book are commendable, more needs to be done to protect women and girls from gender based violence.
Poor implementation is a central problem in legal reform. Common issues include lack of coordination between family and criminal courts, police or prosecutor reluctance and unwillingness or inability of the judiciary to enforce the laws.
It is important to improve institutional responses to gender-based violence by training professionals, reorganizing police or courts, and providing a more comprehensive and supportive response to survivors.
Perhaps more importantly, it is imperative to raise the cost to men of engaging in gender-based violence by establishing or increasing criminal sanctions and mandating participation in treatment programmes.