OAKLAND — The Republic of Zambia continues to make strides in its fight against childhood sexual abuse and gender-based crimes with a helping hand from the Bay Area.
Local prosecutors and judges in October hosted their Zambian counterparts for a monthlong information exchange through the East Bay-based Global Alliance for Health, now entering its fifth year of bringing professionals together in an effort to better protect children in the AIDS-ravaged country that has a high rate of sexual abuse and a low conviction rate for sexual offenders.
“This is a place where you got a lot of money; we don’t have the money. The point is not so much the money thing, it’s the ideas,” Zambia High Court Judge Chalwe Farai Ralph Mchenga said at a meeting with Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley last month. “You got good ideas, and we’ve been toying around with some of them. … We’ve seen them working here, so we’ve come out convinced that the route we are taking is actually the correct one.”
The alliance was instrumental in helping Zambians operate its first One Stop Center at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, where hundreds of child victim of sex crimes are treated, counseled and interviewed each year. With the center a success in Zambia’s capital, more centers are being rolled out in the district.
The group also brought Zambian scientists to the private forensic lab Sorensen Forensics in Utah to be trained in DNA testing in preparation for the opening of the country’s first DNA crime lab.
The most recent delegates to the Bay Area met with judges, toured child protection centers, and sat in on criminal cases such as the Alameda County murder trial of Steven Carlson, convicted of first-degree murder because specks of DNA blood evidence linked him to the 1984 stabbing death of a 14-year-old Pleasanton girl.
“This delegation of prosecutors and magistrates is kind of the highest accord, let’s say, for our experience exchange program,” Shubladze said. “We try to support, and we try to do it in a way that any changes, any reforms and any innovations that take place in Zambia should be initiated by Zambians.”
Government, medical, and nonprofit professionals in Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa and San Francisco counties volunteer their time to the exchange program, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is sanctioned by the Zambian government. O’Malley, a leader in the crusade against sex crimes in California, embraced the program early on.
Mchenga said he was particularly impressed with O’Malley’s Safety Net program, which brings together various professionals to create a safety plan for youths at risk for sexual exploitation.
“I know that there is no perfect system. In every system there are problems, but there is a system that is better than another,” Mchenga said. “It’s a system that works.”
O’Malley said the Global Alliance for Health endeavor is unique in the investment the Zambian government is making to change the landscape of child protection.
“They are sending the people who really have the authority and position in the country to make the changes that they feel are necessary to … upgrade or change or enhance their system,” O’Malley said. “Having professionals go away from the country for a period of time and be able to really live, if you will, in a different environment and absorb it — it’s a much more meaningful strategic planning process that will go on to literally change a culture and to create new laws.”
For more information about the Global Alliance for Health, go to www.globalallianceforhealth.org.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.