Liche Emmanuel, a sixth year medical student at the Ridgeway Campus (UNZA), examines the apparent rise in child abuse in Zambia. It is a very helpful article on a most important issue. The only downside is that the author does not bring crucial statistics to the fore. Without such statistics or discussion on approaches to detection we cannot be clear on where child abuse currently stands. Is it on the increase? Has detection improved? How does it relate to the scourge of child trafficking? These issues deserved more clear discussion.
Child and sexual abuse - a travesty of human dignity, Liche Emmanuel, Africa Files, Commentary :
This article highlights the disturbing incidence of child abuse suggesting some of the possible causes. As children are a gift from God, failure to protect them has serious consequences for them, their families, and the future of the country.
Sexual abuse occurs when adults use children for sexual gratification or expose them to sexual activities. Sexual abuse may begin with kissing or fondling and progress to more intrusive sexual acts, such as oral sex and vaginal or anal penetration. Although Zambia has been declared a Christian Nation, horrendous events like child sexual abuse have somehow found fertile ground. Although several attempts have been made by concerned bodies leading to stiffer punishment for such crimes in the courts, and despite moral condemnation of such practices, these happenings seem to be continuing.
This vice is not only threatening the spirituality of modern society, but it is also an infringement on the vital rights of children thereby stifling the efforts of meeting the millennium development goals, especially on child health. What is more worrying is that most of the abusers are people that these children depend on physically, mentally, emotionally and religiously for their growth. With the impact of HIV/AIDS, many children have found themselves in the custody of their brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. The abusers may also include teachers and traditional rulers, and even some in orphanages to whose care they have been entrusted.
While there is clearly no one single reason to explain the vice, the moral decay could possibly be explained by one or more of the following:
Traditional beliefs : Many men who were diagnosed to have HIV/AIDS have developed an irrational belief that having sex with a minor would bring them healing. Therefore, in their search for healing, such people would find an opportune time to convert this belief into practice. This belief could be seen in the mushrooming of messages on billboards and radio and TV programmes by HIV/AIDS activists to reject this thinking. Furthermore, there is a belief in some cultures that a woman who comes to maturity should undergo sexual cleansing by sleeping with a man. These girls find themselves being abused in the name of walking along the path of culture. Again, contributing to this vice are traditional beliefs where a chief thinks he can sleep with whomsoever he wants as they are his subjects.
Quest for wealth : Traditional healers may sometimes advise their clients to sleep with a minor in quest for riches. In such cases, they may try by all means to encourage their clients to become involved in such practices whether verbally or with the use of charms.
Psychiatric disorders : It has been shown that at least about 10% of the people who sexually abuse children may have psychiatric problems (Richard J. Gelles, Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009). Conditions like Bipolar I, where the patient shows episodes of depression and mania, may increase one’s sexual drive and thus lead to even abusing minors. Substance misuse also can increase a person’s sexual drive such that, if not controlled properly, that person may end up abusing children. Such substances include alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana (tetrahydrocarbinoid).
Lonely lives and opportunistic contact with children In recent years, the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy has become an issue of major concern in some European countries as well as in the United States. Some clergymen and pastors who have regular contact with children can be tempted in their lonely lives to abuse them. Moreover, depending on their ages, the fact that girl children may not become pregnant has increased the danger.
Indecent dressing : Some people have attributed acts of child abuse to indecent dressing, an occurrence that has grown considerably in our country. However, this does not explain cases of abusing babies as young as 18 months old.
Reduced parental guidance : With the increase in pornographic materials on the internet, there is an urgent need for parents to offer parental guidance to minors. Some defilers are just paedophilic, that is, persons who are somehow by nature inclined to indulge in having sexual relationships with children.
Aftermath of defilement
The effect of child abuse is devastating for the future life of the child. The child may innocently become exposed to sexually transmitted diseases ranging from infertility (gonorrhea and chlamydia), mental illness (syphilis), and even death in the case of HIV/AIDS. Moreover, early exposure to sex can predispose children to the danger of developing cervical cancers, a danger that has grown significantly in this country. Unwanted pregnancies are a possible unfortunate outcome for girl children. Obstructed labour also is common in childhood and teenage pregnancies. Labour obstruction can compromise foetal life and even the mother’s life. Moreover, if the labour is prolonged, the mother may end up with a hole between the urinary bladder and the birth canal leading to obstetric fistula.
Psychologically, children who have been sexually abused may show an unusual interest in sexual organs which may result in demonstrating abnormal behaviour such as public masturbation or public display of their genitals. Long-term effects may include depression, low self-esteem, and sexual problems, such as avoidance of sexual contact, confusion about sexuality, or involvement in prostitution.
With so many churches mushrooming nowadays in our country, it is high time we worked together with NGOs, government of the day, and cooperating partners in fostering child protection. Otherwise, the future of our children will be in great danger. Children are a gift from God to family life and to abuse them is to defile God as every one is a temple of God. As a Christian nation, we have a special obligation to care for and protect our children who are the future of our country.