The Sexual Offence Bill was drafted in 2000 and in 2016 it was tabled as a private member bill by Kumi Woman MP, Monicah Amoding (UWOPA Chairperson). A renewed call for an enactment of the bill came at the beginning of March 2018 as a result of recent allegations of sexual abuse in learning institutions, which are argued to occur in a state of absence of a clear legal regime to prosecute this kind of crimes. The SOB is a key legal document seeking to address this and other forms of sexual violence by consolidating laws relating to sexual offences as well as addressing some of the gaps in existing legal frameworks in regards to sexual violations. As such it repeals 18 sections of the Penal Code Act, 1950 as well as Cap. 120 and section 2 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 2007.
Considering that new forms of sexual and gender-based violence are on the rise in Uganda and that some sexual offences are continuing without interruption, the Ugandan law as it stands now is not providing enough protection and redress to survivors of sex-related crimes. Considering that most sex related crimes are still not reported and that current legislation is lacking, the actual figures of sexual violence crimes are arguably considerably higher than this.
Against this backdrop the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) (2015:2) drafted the SOB with a view of strengthening the weak legislation, institutional shortcomings and create awareness. There is a general lack of awareness around viewing sexual offences as crimes. Particularly women, sexual minorities, and sex workers face additional hurdles in seeking access to justice, non-exclusive to stigmatization and the lack of interest and responsiveness of mostly male police and judicial officials. However, it is not a bill without its contestations for it to be truly gender-sensitive and anti-patriarchal.
“The Sexual Offences Bill 2019 consolidated laws relating to sexual offences; combat sexual violence; provide for the punishment of perpetrators of sexual offenses; provide for procedural and evidential requirements during trial of sexual offences and for related matters. As much as the Bill consolidates existing laws by expanding them and adding new provisions that are crucial to the criminalisation of sexual offenses, it does not entirely consolidate laws. However, there is a lack of consolidation of all relevant legal frameworks for sex related crimes.
In general the SOB builds on this by providing a gender-neutral language for both amended and new forms of sexual offences. It thus reaches far in providing support for all survivors of sexual violence. This is a paramount step towards removing stigmas for some groups who have been subjected to sexual violence and it ensures that all people are at least formally protected.
While providing a definition of ‘disability’ is welcome it could be said to be limiting by describing it as “substantial functional limitation”, thus being exclusionary to the wider spectrum of people with functional variation. The new additions of “gang rape”, “person in position of authority”, “person in position of trust”, and “sexual exploitation” are all indicative of how the Bill seeks to address formerly ignored and/or newer forms of sexual violence such as sexual harassment in learning institutions.
The Bill’s definition of a “sexual act” is extensive. It recognises that a sexual act can be either physical or mental abuse. It expands on the parts of the body considered sexual to also add the anus, breast, thighs or buttocks as opposed to only include the sexual organ as indicated in the Penal Code Act. Furthermore it states that contact with these body parts can be either direct or indirect and that insertion of body parts, animal parts, or any object as well as “cunnilingus; fellatio or any other form of genital stimulation” should be considered sexual acts.
The definition of “prostitution” is a direct importation from the Penal Code Act. To begin with, there is a debate around the word ‘prostitute’ itself with advocacy for replacing it with sex worker as it has a derogatory connotation. This is explored further under the respective clauses dealing with ‘prostitution’.
A general contestation is that the Bill uses the language of ‘victim’ versus that of ‘survivor’. Considerable debate has flourished around the misleading perception that comes with labelling someone who has been subjected to sexual violence with the term ‘victim’ as this denotes lack of agency and lower standing. The proposed terminology ‘survivor’ emphasises the strength and agency of the person who has been affected.