It is not easy to talk about child sexual abuse. It is even more difficult to acknowledge that sexual abuse of children and infants happens daily in our country. As a nation we turn a deaf ear to such situations and pretend that they do not occur in our world.
Child sexual abuse, especially amongst girls, should be recognized as a widespread and growing problem in Botswana that needs to be dealt with, with the utmost urgency. It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls are victims of child sexual abuse. This should be a cause for concern.
This form of abuse may include fondling a child’s genitals, masturbation, oral genital contact, digital penetration and vaginal and anal intercourse. Child sexual abuse is not solely restricted to physical contact. Such abuse may not be contractual, but might include exposure to voyeurism and child pornography.
Research has it that approximately 30% of the perpetrators are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles and cousins. Around 60% are other acquaintances such as friends of the family.
The current political, social and economic situation in the country has rendered the girl child more vulnerable to sexual abuse. The primary cause of sexual abuse faced by girls resides within the parent. Some parents rely on their youngest children to take care of them. These difficult circumstances have forced the little girls to be commercial sex workers so as to meet the demands of the family.
In some cases, the presence of the step parent can make a child more vulnerable. Friends or relatives may not perceive molesting the adopted daughter of a friend or relative as taboo. This perception emanates from the belief that a step parent does not have any emotional investment in the child.
The behavior that is displayed by children can alert us that the child is being sexually abused. In most cases a child who is or was sexually abused will display knowledge or interest in sexual acts. At times a child might avoid the perpetrator or display unusual behavior, either being aggressive or very passive. Older children might resort to destructive behavior such as alcohol, drug abuse and self-mutilation or suicide attempts.
Childline Programs Officer, Olabile Machete, highlighted that many children are sexually abused. He added that the impact of child sexual abuse can at times be very severe. Children who are sexually abused usually exhibit abnormal behavior, including anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.
Child sexual abuse is very humiliating, such that the shame of the experience most often forces the victim to be reserved, keeping their abhorring experiences to themselves. Children fear that they may be laughed at if they disclose that they are sexually harassed.
What is even more frightening is that the perpetrators of sexual abuse are usually parents, trusted relatives, child care providers or family friends. Consequently, it is often difficult for the children to report them, and they are often not taken seriously even if they did.
Childline makes an appeal to everyone to participate in the fight against child sexual abuse. Parents should know that any child, whether rich or poor, can be at risk of child sexual victimization. Children are everyone’s concern and we should not turn a blind eye to incidents of child abuse.
Government should intervene to help combat this problem, especially as there are few support institutions at which abused children can seek psychotherapy.
There should be more public awareness campaigns, at which people can be informed about child sexual abuse.
Parents or members of the community who know of children who are sexually abused can contact ChildLine on the toll free number 0 800 300 900.This is a helpline where anyone can call and report such cases. Children should know that their identity will not be disclosed. Child line is there for them.