Update Botswana's Cruelty to Animals Act

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Botswana's Animal Cruelty Act predates Botswana's Independence and was first drafted in 1936. The Act has been amended since then only once, in 1966. Compared to its neighbours in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, Botswana's Animal Cruelty Act is the shortest and least specific. The current Act lags behind the neighbouring countries when it comes to:

Definition and Scope of Cruelty: The current Act defines cruel action such as beating, kicking, ill-treating, over-driving, overloading or torturing any animals. However, one can only be prosecuted if the behaviour is proven to be malicious.

The proposed updated statute expands the definition of cruelty from one of malicious intent to also include negligence following the international concept of “5 Freedoms for Animals”[1]. As a result, actively harming an animal, or the omission of proper care or the failure to alleviate any known suffering constitutes cruelty and should be prosecuted. Offences that one can be prosecuted for should thus be vastly expanded to include among others chaining, tethering or securing animals unnecessarily, starving or underfeeding, denying water, poisoning, negligence with regard to health and prevention of diseases and the inhumane and brutal killing of animals. Breeding, keeping or raising animals for fighting will also be prohibited.

Roles and Responsibilities: Unlike in neighbouring countries Botswana relies exclusively on the police for animal cruelty enforcement and has not established any Animal Welfare Inspectorate. The SPCA is not recognised as a decisive force in Animal Welfare matters.

The proposal increases Botswana’s abilities to enforce Animal Cruelty Laws by permitting Animal Inspectors under the SPCA, in addition to police, to investigate, remove or seize animals, and have perpetrators arrested. This will increase enforcement capacity and ensure that experts trained to identify Animal Cruelty are enforcing the law.

Legal Standard: Botswana’s Animal Cruelty Laws while being the briefest in comparison with neighbouring countries, also uses the broadest language (i.e “wantonly or unreasonably does or omits to do any act, or causes any unnecessary suffering, [or permits such suffering]”). While in theory this gives broader discretion for enforcement, it leaves room for interpretation as the law does not specify what creates suffering and what constitutes a violation. Without more guidance, it is unclear whether acts such as abandonment, hazardous living conditions or inhumane killing of any animal would constitute an offence.

The new proposed Act should allow for a large enough fine and/or imprisonment so as to suffice as a deterrent. A subsequent violation of any provision of the Act would double the original sentencing. Additionally, the Act should empower registered Animal Welfare Organisations, such as SPCAs, to file Animal Cruelty related cases with the Judicial Courts as a matter of criminal law.

Animal Welfare is globally becoming a defining concept as to how a government and society are perceived. A strong Animal Cruelty Act has several benefits for the Nation as a whole. Laws preventing animal cruelty, regulating livestock grazing and treatment and establishing food safety procedures are essential to Botswana’s public health and safety and to its competitiveness as a global meat supplier.

For a country that has sustained democracy for 50 years and is known as the jewel of Africa for its commitment to wildlife and its strong stance against poaching in any form, it is indeed perplexing as to how the Animal Cruelty Act has not been updated since Independence.

Please help us update the law by making your voice heard and your vote count.


[1] http://www.aspcapro.org/sites/pro/files/aspca_asv_five_freedoms_final_0_0.pdf

 



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