BY: Parliament of Uganda
Parliament has passed the Sexual Offences Bill, 2019 providing for criminalisation of a range of sexual offenses that have not been provided for in the existing law.
Whereas the Penal Code Act, Cap. 120 provides for a number of sexual offences, the provisions are outdated and do not reflect the evolving trends in social attitudes, values and sexual practices. As a result, the courts of law find a challenge in dealing with new forms of sexual violence and exploitation such as sex tourism, indecent communication and child marriages among others.
Legislators therefore, perceive the new law as a relief to the country, considering the rampant cases of sexual violence that go unchecked in homes, schools and several institutions.
“This is the law that is going to redefine sexual conduct in this country; this piece of legislation is not for the woman only but for all. Any Christian or Muslim would be happy that there is something taken from the Bible and legislated upon,” said Hon Jacob Oboth, the Chairperson of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.
Moroto district Woman MP, Hon Stella Etiang said the bill gives a sigh of relief from archaic cultures that have for long encouraged sexual violence.
“This bill will help us get rid of some bad cultures in Karamoja. At some point, women were forced to marry men they did not like; it was some kind of forced marriage or marital rape,” said Etiang.
The new law comes at a time when there is a countrywide outcry on the rise in sexual offences in many institutions with children and women being the most affected victims.
Some of the provisions within the law that address the plight of women include consent to withdrawal from a sexual act which attracted a prolonged debate.
MPs in support of the provision cited reasons such as refusal by one partner to use protection, the biological nature of male partners and the need for women to heal after birth.Pakwach District Woman MP, Hon Jane Avur Pacuto said that a woman who has just given birth has a right to withdraw her consent to the sexual act when she realizes she has not healed completely.
“When a woman gives birth, she may feel sympathy for the husband who has been abstaining and agrees to the sexual act but later on discover that she has not yet healed,” said Pacuto.
Hon Etiang said that one would be justified to withdraw consent when the partner opts for unnatural sexual acts.
“You may consent to natural sex but your partners later on introduces abnormal forms such as anal sex and oral sex; there one is justified to withdraw consent,” Etiang added.
A section of male legislators were however, opposed to this provision expressing fear that it might be used as an instrument of defamation. They were also concerned that it would be hard for courts of law to justify an offence when withdrawal of consent is denied.
“Sex is psychological; how can you legislate on it? This bill may lead to the breakdown of families. How are you going to enforce it?,” Hon James Kaberuka, (NRM, Kinkizi West) wondered.
“This is an act where there only two people with no witnesses; there is no one who is going to tell that indeed this man did not come with a condom. Anyone can make an allegation, how are you going to prove it?” asked Hon Silas Aogon (Indep., Kumi Municipality).
The countrywide outcry on the sexual assaults suffered by children has also been catered for in the new law.
“A person who unlawfully gives, displays, distributes or supplies to a child material of a sexual nature, illustrating a sexual act or mimicking a sexual organ commits an offence and is liable on conviction, to imprisonment for a term of ten years” said Oboth Oboth.
Legislators commended the provision on aggravated rape which they said will ensure a satisfactory sentence, as opposed to having a standard punishment for all rapists.
It is aggravated rape when the sexual offender is suffering from AIDS; when the victim suffers disability; when the act was committed by two or more persons, when the offender is a person in authority and when the victim is of advanced age.
Sexual offences such as indecent utterances, gestures and touches to sexual organs of another person which have not been provided for the in previous law have also been catered for.
The mover of the bill, Hon Monicah Amoding applauded the 10th Parliament which she said has delivered a gift to the country and especially women.
“I am short of words and just excited; this bill is a gift to the women’s movement and the country as we wind up this Parliament. When we started the 10th Parliament, Women MPs put out four bills and three have been passed,” Amoding said.
Clause 2 of the Bill on rape provides that a person who performs a sexual act with another person-without that other person's consent; or incapable of consenting to the sexual act commits an offence and is liable on conviction, to imprisonment for life.
Clause 8 states that, a person who unlawfully detains another person with the intention of performing a sexual act with that other person commits an offence and is liable on conviction, to imprisonment not exceeding seven years.
The bill also creates offence for a person who transmits, transfers, sends, forwards, directs material of a sexual nature to another person without the consent of that other person.