Protesters on Monday demanded the resignation of Tunisia’s minister for women’s affairs, Sihem Badi, accusing her of defending a children’s nursery where a three-year-old girl was raped.
The protesters, among them relatives of the victim, gathered outside the ministry in Tunis shouting slogans against Badi, including “Minister of shame, get out!” and “Ministers who protect paedophiles have no place among us.”
The young girl was raped repeatedly by the caretaker of the nursery in La Marsa, an upscale suburb of the capital, according to the police.
The suspect was arrested on Saturday.
On the same day, Badi, who as minister of families as well of women’s affairs is responsible for children’s nurseries, said a member of the girl’s family was to blame and that no measures against the nursery were needed.
“Three weeks ago, my life turned into a nightmare. When I imagine my daughter, who weighs 11 kilos, in the hands — and on several occasions — of this 55-year-old caretaker, I have only one wish, to die,” the father of the victim told AFP.
“The children’s nursery is still open despite what happened to my daughter,” he added, his voice welling with emotion.
An official at the ministry for women’s affairs said later that the kindergarten had finally been closed on Monday.
“The ministry took the decision to close this nursery several days ago, and it was closed this afternoon,” Maher Souilem told AFP.
The minister herself, who is a member of President Moncef Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic party, was on a trip to Qatar with Marzouki on Monday and not reachable for comment.
Badi has for months been strongly criticised by civil society activists because of her warm ties with Ennahda, the ruling Islamist party which secular opposition groups in particular accuse of seeking to curtail women’s rights.
Her ministry on Monday announced the creation “of an emergency commission to follow the developments of this case” and tasked with identifying “preventative measures… to confront violence, aggression and threats (against children), whatever form they take.”
If found guilty, the rape suspect risks the death penalty, even though no executions have been carried out in Tunisia since 1991.
The last person to be put to death was a rapist and child serial killer.