Corporal punishment extended to women

Individuals up to the age of 50, including women, can now be sentenced to flogging in Botswana, according to new legislation in the pipeline.

The Customary Courts Amendment Bill, approved by parliament last week, allows chiefs administering traditional courts to sentence men and women up to the age of 50 years to corporal punishment.

Under Botswana's customary laws, petty crimes are punishable by flogging the offender on the bare back - a practice that has drawn sharp criticism from rights campaigners.

Earlier this year the African Commission on Human and People's Rights called for an end to the use of "inhuman and degrading" corporal and capital punishment.

Botswana has argued that corporal punishment reduces overcrowding in its prisons. With 6,160 inmates, Botswana has almost double the number of prisoners its jails have been designed to hold.

While many Batswana have welcomed the bill, it has also been criticised by human rights organisations and opposition political parties. Botswana's constitution prohibits inhuman and degrading punishment, but makes exceptions allowing corporal punishment and the death penalty.

The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, an NGO known as 'Ditshwanelo' in the local Setswana language, underlined the fact that the country was a signatory to the UN conventions on elimination of torture, and civil and political rights.

"This means that Botswana must not expose individuals to the dangers of torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, by way of forced return, extradition, expulsion or refoulement," the rights advocacy group said in a statement.

By retaining corporal punishment, Ditshwanelo said, Botswana has acted contrary to its development blueprint, Vision 2016, which calls for a "compassionate, just and caring nation" by the year 2016.