The shock factor is waning as Botswana’s cases of paedophilia become more pronounced. It could be your neighbour involved, or your best friend, the football coach at school or even the pastor at a local church; in a word ÔÇô anyone.
If statistics tell a story, then the numbers from Childline Botswana are a cause for concern. For the year ending in December 2010 a total of 71 cases relating to sexual abuse of minors were reported. These were cases in Gaborone alone. Beyond the capital city, more cases have been reported to the police as the outline of a worrying social problem emerges.
There was a time when reports of grown men and women engaging in sexual activity with infants as young as 9 months old would have been enough to set one’s hair on edge. In a world gone intensely immoral, such bizarre events are losing their ability to shock.
As social workers admit, the world is transforming into a hazardous place for children. Even in Botswana, the family, the social unit that used to be a safe haven for parenting and children, is now a potential breeding place for paedophiles.
It may not be a dinner table topic, but defilement nevertheless seems to have placed itself at par with other prevailing social problems. Indeed, sex offenders have taken it a few notches up, turning it into a global pandemic. Paedophilia represents morbid violation, abuse and traumatic experience for helpless innocent beings. It is associated with recurring sexually exciting fantasies and impulsive behaviour that includes sexual acts with children.
“Paedophiles use various ways of abusing children, some of which is not necessarily defilement,” says Onkemetse Mbazo-Montsheki, Director of Childline Botswana. “For example some paedophiles enjoy watching naked children. Some enjoy being fondled by children. As such victims would react differently depending on what the paedophile has exposed the child to.”
The Children’s Act of Botswana defines a child as any person who is below the age of 18 years.
“Whatever the profile of the perpetrator, the impact on the psychological well-being of the child is devastating,” says Taolo Lucas from the Department of Sociology at the University of Botswana.
“Children who have been abused emotionally carry permanent emotional scars. These emotional injuries if not attended, can lead to a permanent malfunction of such individuals in most spheres of life.”
According to Lucas, research shows that for one to be a paedophile or a child molester they have to have experienced and either suppressed extreme psychological issues that had not been resolved. Myths and half truths likening paedophilia to homosexuality abound; the fact is, it is not the gender that matters ÔÇô it is the age. Homosexuals, heterosexuals and bisexuals all have the potential to be child molesters.
Several studies over the years have provided conclusive evidence that most paedophiles arise from the “victim-to-perpetrator syndrome.” In this instance, a child who was molested and did not receive any treatment is likely to develop this condition.
“The child so affected needs intense therapeutic intervention by a professional counsellors, psychologist or social workers,” says Lucas. “The psychologist would have to deal with the trauma occasioned by the attack as well as intervene to restore normal emotional functioning of the child.”
Other studies however show that paedophilia can be a result of the perpetrator’s deep rooted insecurities and a narcissistic constant need to dominate. The villain can only get this type of satisfaction by having their way with minors. There are also biological causes which are often a result of a person experiencing brain trauma before the age of six.
In Botswana, Childline works in conjunction with government social workers. Their responsibility is to remove any child from an environment where children are being abused or they are vulnerable until it is safe for them to go back. In other cases they are placed in foster care or with other relatives. “The therapies and interventions regarding abused children can take years and requires consistent observation, monitoring by both professionals and caregivers,” adds Lucas.
Where victims fail to get the necessary counselling and therapy, they develop elusive behavioural patterns towards sexual activities in future. In some instances they may turn into child molesters, have a strong dislike for any form of sexual activity or even fail to form any kind of mutually respective relationship.
Victims of sexual abuse may also suffer from anxiety, resulting in all sorts of phobias ÔÇô like being afraid of the dark. Post traumatic stress disorder triggers long term effects like anti social tendencies, substance abuse, and promiscuity. Ultimately the victims can become suicidal if they remain untreated. There is also the residual aftermath at a much later stage where due to stigma and socialisation the victims is labelled and victimised as if they were responsible for being sexually abused as a child.
Social workers warn that for victims, the psychological wounds are often deep and take long to heal. Sexual intercourse with a minor may result in detrimental physical repercussions as well. Any kind of adult-child sexual relationship is obviously non consensual and taking in to consideration the victim’s age and level of maturity it has to be frightening, confusing and excruciating.
The victim is also vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases that the perpetrator may have. And if the incident goes unreported the child will not get the necessary treatment for the infections. There is also the possibility of the victim falling pregnant, in the case of girl who has reached puberty and is sexually molested.
Given the seriousness of the issue do victims have protection in the law? Apart from arrest and prosecution, other areas of the law seek to create an environment that makes it hard for paedophiles. For example, the Department of Social Services is guided in part by the Children’s Act which states: “The Head of the Department responsible for children’s affairs ‘the Director’ shall open and maintain a register of service providers and other persons who have been convicted of any offence under this Part, and any service provider or person whose name appears in the register shall not be employed by any person who has children in their care and, in the case of an institution, the licence issued to that institution shall be revoked. In the register shall be entered such particulars as are required by this Act or such further particulars as the Minister may, by regulations, prescribe.”
This clause will protect children from paedophiles in places like schools and any government recreation facilities for children. Despite the efforts made by this piece of legislature, children will still remain vulnerable in other realms.
“In Botswana, most children who are sexually molested normally remain in the homes with their molesters with very little professional assistance,” says Lucas. “There are few options for such children.”
It is usually safer to remove the child from such an environment to foster homes, which are not particularly popular in Botswana.
In most instances, children are not molested by strangers. Mbazo-Montsheki states that parents should be wary of “people who like working closely or directly with the children, such as teachers, social workers, those who work for charity organisations or those that are involved in picking up children from school with their combis or taxies.”
This social ill goes as far as members of the family molesting their own children. Mothers often protect their husbands and fail to report some cases. However the new Children’s act states that failure to report a case of sexual abuse of a minor is considered a criminal offence as well.