Shattered Lives……. Child Sexual Abuse

by

CHILD abuse takes place in our communities all the time. It takes the form of physical assault by parents and/or other adult family members; emotional abuse; deprivation of basic necessities like food, shelter, education, health care, and time to play; and the most frightening of all forms of abuse but the least discussed in our communities, is child sexual abuse.

UNICEF has identified that the majority incidents of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by a family member- nearly 60 per cent of the incidents- family members who include a parent; an uncle; cousin; grandfather; step father; and sometimes, with the quiet acquiescence of the mother, who would rather let her child be abused than disturb the status quo.

After which, 30 per cent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by people who are trusted by a family like teachers; neighbors; religious instructors; games/sports instructors; family friends; domestic servants; and guardians.

The rest, 10 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by strangers- men who are predatory pedophiles who access the children in school; neighborhoods; through social networks; and when the children are sent out on errands by a parent.Most families are loath to have conversations on child sexual abuse. They either pretend that it is not taking place; or they feel ashamed to speak up and say that their child has/is being sexually abused. Often, the blame is put on the child, and rarely is the perpetrator called to account.

Tanzania’s Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act SOSPA 1998, has well-articulated clauses on child sexual abuse; the forms it takes, including incestuous child sexual abuse; the description of the perpetrators; and the punishment for child sexual abuse, which is life imprisonment; monetary compensation to the child; and sometimes, canning of the criminal.

Civil Society Organizations like TAMWA; the TGNP; WLAC; LHRC; and KIVULINI has been in the forefront on public education to inform the public on child sexual abuse; as well as clinics which offer psychosocial support to the abused children and their families.

Law enforcers and public prosecutors have also been cooperative in following up incidents of child sexual abuse; collecting evidence for prosecution; and often doing follow up until the cases are concluded in law courts.

Media practitioners and Media Houses have also shown considerable support in the way they report cases of child sexual abuse, with editors often running leaders/editorials to highlight the importance of criminal prosecution against offenders,

But for the law enforcement to be effective, communities need to speak up when child sexual abuse has taken place.

Often, when the child abuser is the father, families close ranks and become protective of the father, and not of the abused child. This happened to Kidawa whose father started sexually abusing her when she was 10 years of age. She was told by her father that it is the tradition and that she should not discuss it with anyone.

The abuse continued for two years with Kidawa’s mother having knowledge that the abuse is taking place but chose to remain silent and pretend it is not taking place. It was when Kidawa’s maternal aunt came to their house on a visit, witnessed the abuse taking place, that someone spoke up for Kidawa.Her aunt informed the Local Government Chairman who acknowledged that he has heard of the rumors but his office could not do a follow up because family members chose to protect Kidawa’s father. The LGA Chairman reported the matter to the police who arrested Kidawa’s father.
Unfortunately, SOSPA 1998 has provisions of bail for an alleged offender of child sexual abuse and Kidawa’s father was bailed out by his brothers within days, and came to the same house where Kidawa, the principal witness was also living because it is her family home, and because the aunt could not take her away from the town as she, Kidawa, had to give testimony in court.

Also, the law regarding the guardianship of a child while her parents are still alive is quite convoluted, and Kidawa’s aunt could not take her away from her parents while the matter was in court, awaiting criminal proceedings.

What this means is the fact that though Kidawa’s father was the perpetrator of the sexual abuse, the law still placed her under his guardianship. Being her father, he had full legal control over decisions on her place of residence.

That very same evening on the day that Kidawa’s father was granted bail, a family meeting was convened and Kidawa was threatened by her parents, her paternal uncles and her grandmother that if she gave testimony, they would do her grievous harm.

Kidawa was forced to go to the police station to detract her statement. Despite medical reports which established that Kidawa had been repeatedly defiled, the police had to close the case on lack of testimony.

Kidawa swallowed a handful of pills which her mother was taking for high blood pressure and they found her dead, cold body in the morning. The father was by then eyeing Kidawa’s younger sister, Moshi, and started defiling her soon after Kidawa’s funeral bier was taken to the graveyard and Kidawa buried.

Here, it is child defilement perpetrated by a father, the person on whom society; the law; and God; has bestowed the responsibility for the security and protection of a child. It is called incest by the law as well as by religious tenets; and by societal attitude; yet few people in our communities and in our families, would take that first step to speak up against child defilement incest. Fewer still would have the courage to institute criminal proceedings against a father who commits not only child sexual abuse, pedophilia, but who also commits the crime and the sin of incest.

Because child sexual abuse including incest is a bail able offense, the perpetrator would invariably come back to the house where the abused child is staying; after all, it is the family home, and then start using threats; intimidation; violence; against the child to the extent, the child’s life is put in danger, as was the case with Kidawa.

Cases of teachers sexually abusing their pupils are rife, pupils over whom they have been entrusted with the responsibility of teaching; nurturing; protecting.
Boma was a boy of 12 years of age when his geography teacher in primary school started defiling him sexually.

The teacher, a man, told Boma to stay behind after class and offered him extra tuition, then started sexually abusing him in the lavatory when the rest of the pupils and teachers had left for their homes.

It went on for over 4 months until a school watchman thought there was something amiss when Boma had to stay behind at least 2 days a week. The school watchman studied the pattern then accosted the teacher in the act and then shouted for help.

There was quite a commotion and the teacher was dragged to the police station where nobody went to post his bail. After a hearing that went on for 6 months, the teacher was found guilty, based on the testimony of Boma; the school watchman; medical reports; and testimony from Boma’s friend, Bisse, who was accompanied to court by the school headmaster and gave testimony that he had witnessed the defilement on Boma by their teacher. In fact, the teacher had also tried to defile him but he had told his older brother who had waited for the teacher outside the school gate and warned him off. The teacher is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Ruhi a girl of 13 years of age was physically groped in near her breasts and genital area by her ustadh/ religious instructor. She did not know what to do, until an older girl, Zora, told her mother who informed her husband about Ruhi. It took Zora’s father 2 months before he could muster the courage to inform the religious board who were quite angry and scandalized about such conversations. They refused to listen.

Then Zora’s father went and informed Ruhi’s father who took the matter in his own hands, went and beat up the ustadh until the police were called. Ruhi’s father was charged with assault. The ustadh left town after that, and the assault charges against Ruhi’s father were scrapped off.

What disappointed Ruhi’s and Zora’s fathers was the lack of empathy and support from their religious community. They were treated as pariahs. They were ostracized. So much so, that Ruhi’s father decided to move with his family from Arusha to Dar es Salaam.

Loy, a boy of 7 years of age was sexually abused by a neighbor; a man of 42, who was a suspected pedophile, suspected by the community in their area, but nobody took any action. There were just whispers that Dalali likes to have sex with little boys. The community could not even articulate that what Dalali was doing is pedophilia, and that Dalali is a pedophile, a vile man who preys on little boys then lures them to his outhouse where he tells them he keeps a TV set and a CD player and would like to show them cartoon films.

He lures them to the outhouse, where he then sexually abuses the boys, after which he threatens he would kill them if they told people about what took place. Dalali got away with child sexual abuse for a number of years, until he attempted to defile the 10 year old nephew of a police officer, got caught and clapped behind bars for the rest of his life.

 

After the incident became public, neighbors told the police that they had suspected Dalali of being a pedophile, but did not want to get involved, lest they are called to court to give testimony.
This attitude illustrates that few people would be willing to intervene when child sexual abuse takes place. It also shows a marked lack of communal responsibility.

What should be done?

  • Increase awareness on child sexual abuse through public education. This should be done from community radio stations; as well as national radio stations. Radio has a wide reach in Tanzania, reaching out to 89-92 per cent of the population. The messages sent out should focus on:
  • What constitutes child sexual abuse
  • What a person; family; community ought to do when it is suspected, or witnessed that child sexual abuse is taking place
  • What the law says about child sexual abuse
  • How to support a child who has been sexually abuse
  • Opinion Leaders like MPs; Councilors; Sports and Music Stars; should take on the Agenda as a priority, and speak up whenever they are on public platforms on the protection of children against child sexual abuse
  • Human Rights Activists and Legal Aid CSOs should increase outreach to communities to sensitize them on child sexual abuse
  • Law Enforcers need more training on dealing with child abuse crimes, and on collecting evidence and the prosecution of pedophiles
  • Medical practitioners need training on dealing with child sexual abuse victims; on collecting forensic evidence to help law enforcement; and on interviewing victims during medical examination
  • Magistrates need training on child friendly court proceedings. It is important to note that the victims of pedophilia are children; that they have been threatened and abused; that they have been living in fear; and that they may take time to give testimony in a court of law. Incidents have been reported about magistrates who tend to lose patience with a child sexual abuse victim who is afraid to speak up and remains mute, or cries in court. Magistrates ought to take into account the trauma; the terrible ordeal that such children have undergone, and then make the attempt to speak to the children in kind tones of voice.
  • Since the court proceedings over child sexual abuse cases are held in Chamber, the judiciary ought to have a special spokes person who would give regular updates on the case to the media.
  • The SOSPA 1998 needs revisiting and amendments made on certain clauses in the Section on Child Defilement, particularly on granting bail to a child sex offender who would threaten; intimidate; or even try and kill the child, whose testimony would send the offender to jail for life.
  • As a nation, we need to initiate conversations on child sexual abuse because we have the moral obligation to do so, and to ensure that victims of child sexual abuse are given all the necessary support.

“Together We Can Make it Happen”

Leila Sheikh