A favourite statistic to be made about our House of Deputies and the Senate is that 56 percent of legislators are women [highest in the world].
Are we not an enlightened lot? Awkwardness however sets in when one finds out that the labour law of 2001 [in a male dominated parliament] was in a few areas more woman-friendly than the labour law of 2009.
Maternity pay under the newer law is seven percent less than it was and women now have a right to one-hour of breastfeeding time for 12 months after delivery whereas before it was 15 months. So far the women are not complaining.
Leaving gender composition to one side, someone should explain to us why our legislators seem overly eager to have Rwandans imprisoned.
Last week, this newspaper reported that common sense prevailed when Parliament decriminalised suicide attempts even though people who cause failed suicide ‘unbearable trouble’ are still liable to a spell in the cooler.
The same article then went on to tell us that abortion, prostitution and begging [yes, you read that correctly] are criminal offences.
Before we get to what is wrong with the last sentence, the article went on to inform us that the new penal code intended to reduce the number of people sent to prison.
This was rounded off with a wholesome quote from Senator Marie Mukantabana, “Sending a criminal to jail may not necessarily change him, actually some people commit crimes with an intention to making a profit out of their wrong deed...”
Well said Senator. We all needed to be reminded that a lot of crime is committed for selfish reasons and that prison is no rehab.
Or is it? Criminal justice is ideally supposed to do three things – deter future criminals, punish and rehabilitate the guilty ones.
As far as I can tell, current laws have done nothing to deter any girls from aborting, prostitution continues openly.
The new law, like the old one, will ensure that after spending several working hours under arrest by the police, prosecution by a Prosecutor and deliberation by a Judge, you will be punished for terminating a life that you did not want to bear or catering to the all powerful human libido or soliciting spare change from pedestrians.
As for rehabilitation? Like the Senator in the article, I do not believe in the magical rehabilitative powers of the cell.
Of the three things, only the punitive element holds true. The other common thread within all these ‘crimes’ is that they tend to excite a certain moral outrage in society.
A rumour about an abortion or participation in prostitution will sink a young lady’s reputation no matter her other qualities or skills and there is a bit of a nuisance value about beggars.
Being scandalised or inconvenienced is one thing, tossing people into jail is a whole different matter. The loss of freedom and later loss of opportunities due to a conviction record are bad enough. Worse still are the indirect effects.
Abortions will be carried out in dangerous conditions and complications will be reported much later than they should [if at all].
Prostitutes will go untested and untreated for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections thereby becoming a reservoir of the same and passing it on to their reckless clients. They will also be subjected to abuse and deadly exploitation.
If you disliked the beggars pestering you for a coin or two, you surely will be further frustrated when they start mugging you.
All these ‘crimes’ are a result of deep rooted social and economic issues and in the case of abortion and prostitution, these have health implications too.
There is a whole discussion on how to deal with them and the clever people in the seminars are probably coming to an ingenious solution soon. However, prison as social rehab cannot be the most enlightened thinking to emerge out of parliament.