While delivering a judgement High Court Judge Justice Edith Mushore proposed the introduction of a national register of sex offenders which blacklists all perpetrators of abuse to ensure they are barred from working in schools or other childcare institutions.
What is a National Register of Sex Offenders?
It is a register that records the details of anyone convicted of a sexual offence against a child or a mentally disabled person. It usually includes a picture of that person, their name or aliases as well as their home address.
While this being a noble idea there are a number of issues that have to be considered first…
Before we take the plunge…
Before Zimbabwe establishes its own national register of sex offenders research should be done to establish if there is recidivism. A 2009 report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution states that: “None of these high-profile strategies has been built on empirical evaluation, and virtually all have gone to national scale without research or even much pilot testing.”
Let’s build policy based on empirical evidence rather than assumptions and emotions.
It’s falling from the frying pan into the fire…
A functioning prison system should rehabilitate and correct those that would have been convicted for an offence. The other reason is to deter would be offenders from committing a crime. While the national register of sex offenders would also serve the purpose of deterring would be offenders and repeat offenders, it also serves to discriminate against ex-convicts.
After serving a prison sentence an ex-convict is supposed to be integrated into society but the national register will make that difficult or impossible. This registry will serve as more punishment for people who have already satisfied the court system. It will be more like a life sentence for someone who would have been reformed and might be forced into a life of crime to make ends meet.
It has ripple effects…
The child of a convicted offender can suffer bullying and stigmatisation as a result of the register. The register will serve as a constant reminder of the sins of the parent.
Numbers don’t lie…
The public sex offender registry is based on the assumption of high sex offender recidivism, stranger-danger, and that all sex offenders pose a danger to children. However, a study found that 95% of those arrested for sexual offenses have no prior convictions.
A study conducted by the Canadian government looked at data from 10 studies on sex-offender recidivism in Canada, the United Kingdom, Wales and the United States and found that “after 15 years, 73% of sexual offenders had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offence.” Sometimes the prison system does serve its purpose.
In 2008 the US Department of Justice published a study it had commissioned on the impact of the first sex offender register in that country, which was established in New Jersey in 1994 and is poppularly known as “Megan’s Law”, after the name of a victim in a particularly horrific child sex case.
The study found that “Megan’s Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses”. The study found that a sex offender register is costly, and does not represent value for taxpayers’ money.
It’s like wearing one shoe when you have two feet…
A study by Zubaida Jooma in 2010 concludes among other things that a registry “is not proactive. A crime must have already occurred and the offender must be listed before it is of any value. Furthermore, the provisions are narrow and do not recognise that in South Africa the majority of sexual offences involving children occur within the family and not at the workplace.”
While it deals with potential sex offences in the workplace it does nothing to alleviate or lessen the chances of those that occur at home where the child is assumed or expected to be the safest.
It represents a Human Rights dilemma…
The registry strips the offender of the right to privacy, freedom of movement and economic liberty. While protecting our children we are denying other parents or guardians the opportunity to fend for their own.
I think I have said enough…
I applaud Justice Mushore for proposing the introduction of a sex offenders registry, but the prison system has to be fixed first to move from punishing but to rehabilitate and correct. Please let us know your thoughts and comments on the issue.
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