Child abuse, particularly that of a sexual nature, is on the rise, amid calls to impose stiffer penalties on offenders, most of whom are known to the victims.
BY HAZVINEI MWANAKA
A recent report by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Victim Friendly Unit shows that more than 2 400 children under the age of 18 were victims of rape between January and October last year.
During the same period, 3 421 sexual abuse cases of minors were reported. The report showed that neighbours accounted for 41% of perpetrators, while relatives left in the care of the children accounted for 27%.
Just over two weeks ago, this writer attended a court session in Harare. Some of the cases were attention-grabbing, scandalous and others just heart-rending. But one of the cases touched my heart.
One man (44 years) received a 12-year jail term for raping his 10-year-old daughter whom he had been staying with after divorcing the mother.
The court heard that the complainant went to bath while the accused was in the house. After bathing the complainant went to the bedroom to change her clothes and the accused followed her, closed the door and forced himself on the minor and ordered her not to tell anyone.
The matter came to light when the complainant’s mother, who by that time was now staying with the complainant, noted that there was greater love shown to the complainant by the accused. The love was contrary to the one shown to the other male sibling who was always fleeing from the accused.
She then questioned the minor who then revealed that she was once raped by the accused.
This is one of the sad and frequent cases happening not only in Zimbabwe but in other parts of the world where young girls and boys are falling victim to older people.
One parent Marjory Mangwere said child rape was disheartening, especially when a relative is the culprit.
“Actually, I have a daughter, and if this happens to be honest its dreadful, how we can do such shameful acts, we ruin our children’s future,” she said.
“Stiffer penalties should be given to these culprits. However, we as parents are also to blame, we have to leave our kids in the hands of people we know and trust,” added Mangwere.
According to the Preliminary Report of the National Baseline Survey on the Life Experiences of Adolescents in Zimbabwe released in 2012, about one third of girls experience sexual violence before their 18th birthday. The survey said only 2% of these seek care and support, while about one in 10 males aged between 18-24 experienced sexual abuse in childhood.
South Africa has the highest incidences of child and infant rape in the world. Statistics from that country show that a child is raped in South Africa every three minutes.
Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Reverend Lindani Dube took a swipe at child abusers.
“The word of God is clear that children are a gift from God, and the abuse of children is not acceptable not only by society but by God also,” he said. “Everyone should be able to respect both societal and God’s values; if a child is the age of my own child, that child automatically qualifies to be my own and that only should be treasured.”
One of the contributing factors that have been cited for the escalation of child abuse was the myth that having sex with a virgin cures a man of HIV and Aids.
‘Research into causes of sexual abuse overdue’
Zimbabwe National Council for the welfare of children (ZNCWC) national director Taylor Nyanhete said there was need to thoroughly research on the root causes of sexual abuse, especially that perpetrated by family members.
“There is an outrageous increase in cases of sexual abuse of minors by relatives, which is a cause of concern. Research will inform us what action can be taken to address this,” he said.
Nyanhete urged parents to always protect their children and develop a relationship where they are able to talk freely with them.
He said government should ensure the full implementation of legislation that protects children.
“As a country, we do have good pieces of legislations as well as structures like the Victim Friendly Unit (VFU) but we fall short when it comes to implementation,” said Nyanhete.
He urged children to report cases of abuse promptly.