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S.Africa to roll out dedicated rape courts

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

South Africa will open 58 dedicated sexual offences courts to address a rape crisis of nearly 65,000 attacks a year, its justice minister said Wednesday.

Minister Jeff Radebe told lawmakers in parliament that the courts are set to be "fully functional" by September.

"These dedicated courts are necessary," he said. "When there are these dedicated courts, the conviction rate goes up, but when we stopped them, the conviction rate went down."

South Africa rolled out dedicated sexual offences courts more than a decade ago, but the programme went into demise.

Currently, sexual offences are tried in general courts where they are regarded as priority cases, justice ministry spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga told AFP.

With nearly 65,000 attacks a year, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world. The brutal rape, murder and mutilation of a teenage girl last month thrust the country's crisis further into the spotlight.

"The scourge of sexual assaults against women and children must be dealt with very firmly and with the harsh sentences," said Radebe.

The new courts will sit within existing courts and will hear all cases of sexual assault, including attacks on lesbians and gays.

Statistics show that 363 life sentences and a conviction rate of 73 percent were secured in the year ending March 2012.

The government reintroduced specialised police units last year and has stepped up the fight to tackle sex crimes.

President Jacob Zuma named battling rape and violence as a key issue in his annual state of the nation address last month.

A Stop Rape campaign was launched in schools last week, sparked by the horrific rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, whose disembowelment shocked the country.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130306/safrica-roll-out-dedicated-rape-courts