This week, the staff of UNICEF, led by the head of UNICEF in Botswana briefed newsroom editors on the state of violence against children in Botswana.
The statistics are as alarming as they are glaring.
Also in attendance were the Botswana Police Service, represented by the unit that deals with violence against children.
Violence against children in Botswana has become a scourge. And the media has to become part of the solution.
When listening to officials that deal with this issue on a daily basis, the picture that emerges is a depressing one.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi also touched on the issue this week as he presented the State of the Nation Address.
The scale of the scourge is such that it can only be defeated with explicit participation of political leadership.
According to UNICEF professionals, nine out of ten perpetrators are often known to the family of the victim.
Yet families are still uncomfortable reporting cases of violence against children.
This is because there is still a fear that by reporting, the authorities will further violate the victim’s rights.
A lack of social activism and social movement in Botswana is also a big hindrance towards tackling the issue.
Violence against children includes child molestation, rape and defilement – among others.
These are often on girls. But officials say cases against young boys are increasingly being reported.
Births among girls aged 15 to 19 years are on the rise.
Perpetrators are often stepfathers, parents, stepbrothers, cousins and siblings.
There is also a lot of cases reported on pressured sex, sex before 18 years and forced sex.
Countrywide, teenage pregnancy is rife.
No village or district has been spared. But of course there are some districts that are particularly hard-hit.
These children are too young. And their bodies are not at all developed for them to become mothers. Sex exposes them to the risks of HIV/AIDs and other diseases.
High as the numbers are, a lot of cases go unreported.
Reasons for not reporting vary.
Some do not report because they fear repercussions.
This is especially the case if the perpetrator is a breadwinner and there is a fear they might lose their job.
Parents are also bribed into not reporting or even withdrawing cases.
Abuse is especially prone in the villages.
This is because there is a lot of parental negligence in the villages.
Tutume village in the Central District was named as particularly hard hit.
Around 80 students in the area dropped out of school in the year under review.
A lot of those pregnancies are as a result of inter-generational sex.
Countrywide, an equivalent of 18 classes of students gets raped every year.
This means that childhood in Botswana has become a big risk.
In all this shockingly gloomy picture we pay tribute to Botswana Police Service.
Not so long ago we criticized them in this very space for being a part of the problem.
We now recognise that over a short time, Botswana Police has become a big part of a drive towards finding solutions.
They have made it easier for reports to be made including outside the areas where a crime has happened.
Botswana Police treat victims as a special breed.
They do so realizing that victims of abuse are distraught, traumatized and are too often expected to go back to stay at the crime scenes.
Police are busy putting up infrastructure to support victims.
This is because they recognise victims need special infrastructure that guarantees confidentiality.
Children especially need infrastructure that is itself child friendly.
And Botswana Police are busy creating children friendly centres.
They have started erecting such infrastructure from scratch. But progress is clear, thanks to donations from Botswana’s development partners but also direct contribution from Botswana government.
Training of police officers who will be dedicated to handling these special crimes are also moving ahead at great speed. That too is commendable.
Once again we pay tribute to Botswana Police for being such a big part of the solution to this scourge that is eating our nation.
Other gaps however still exist.
The Magistrates and judges need to be taught on the basics and intricacies of abuse.
They cannot treat victims of abuse in an aloof and detached way that they treat every other case that gets before them.
Abuse victims are unique.
They are often linked by blood to the perpetrator. And these things should be understood by the judiciary.