BOTSWANA: Child sexual abuse reaches crisis level

[24 September 2012] - Although the issues of rape of minors and defilement irk gender and equality activists, they see light at the end of the tunnel because now people are coming forward and children are able to report the ghastly incidents. 

This past week, in the midst of passing judgment on a 56-year-old man who had raped his underage daughters aged ten and 11 years for five years, Francistown senior magistrate Kgololesego Segabo was at it again saying something needs to be done.  

In fact it is not just Segabo, but also another senior magistrate in Thebeetsile Mulalu who sounded a clarion call about rape cases that come before him. When passing judgement on the monster who raped and drew crosses on his sobbing and helpless step-children, Segabo said that the number of rape cases in this country has reached a national crisis level.

He said campaigns needed to be intensified and that courts should up the ante in their resolve on those who are found guilty of committing these hideous and brutal crimes.  Cases in which a father, stepfather, uncle and cousin, who is supposed to be a protector of the children, have been brought before the courts on rape charges on those children are nowadays a daily occurrence in the courts of law.

Veteran gender and equality activist and counsellor Ntombi Setshwaelo who declared from the onset that it was an issue after her heart, said that every child needs to be protected but when it came to issues of rape and molestation the girl child becomes especially vulnerable.

She said that this factor becomes very apparent when the child has been violated and goes into denial, is embarrassed and probably blames herself.  "When they have been violated the children do not know how to articulate the issue," she said.

She said that it is important to note that this is not a new issue because this has been happening for decades."We are counselling people in their teens, in their 20s, in their 30s and in their 40s and many others who were raped and molested when they were children. It has been existing and some people have lived with it for many years," she said.  She said at least nowadays children are aware that no matter how hard it is, they can report and that they have to know what is appropriate and what is not.

She said that it is critical for children to know what is appropriate or what is not when it comes to touching especially by members of the opposite sex.  "Parents are also now coming into the open on a wide scale. This thing is highly stigmatised. It is shameful and it has been hidden by people who want to protect themselves without regard of the children," she said. 

She said that children are voiceless and powerless but they should be taught to say something or find someone to talk to that they can trust. Another giant in the female emancipation campaign Keabonye Ntsabane of Gender Links said that long ago when they started touching on the issue of abuse of young children, people reacted negatively and called them home wreckers.

"People did not react positively at all because they looked at us as individuals who wanted to cause trouble," she said. However, she said that the campaigns and the awareness are making a difference as nowadays children are coming out to report the perpetrators unlike before.  She further said that these things have been happening for a long time and children did not have the knowledge to report and were also embarrassed.  "Children are now coming forward to report those who abuse them as they are no longer embarrassed.

"The campaigns are meant to teach them that they are not to blame for the actions of adults who take advantage of them and rape them or defile them," she stated. Ntsabane said there are still some children who are afraid to report because of the blame that they will get from their mothers and be labelled as bad children who want to cause problems for the family.

"The partnership that we have with Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) and Councils is to try and create awareness surrounding this issue including the parents so that they should listen to their children.

"Wherever we go we involve village elders, Village Development Committees (VDCs) and so on because we want the message to reach where it is intended to go, which is both the children and the parents and would-be perpetrators," she added.  She said that they also talk to village leaders like chiefs and headmen that when cases of this nature are brought before their customary courts, they should not send them back home and advise them to talk as a family.

"They should understand that these cases need to be reported to the police so that important factors can be established and that the children are not viewed as being troublesome by reporting the abuses," she said. 
Ntsabane further advised that mothers should not compromise their children just because the men who are doing this might be the breadwinners or just to save their own relationships. She further said that these things also cause violence in the homes because if the man is sleeping with the child in the home she might confuse the feelings for love and then begin to resent her mother.

"It can cause a lot of damage in the home because the child can begin to feel as the other woman as well. So when the children tell their mothers they (the mothers) should listen and act. They should never compromise their own children," said Ntsabane.

Ntsabane said that what they are finding out during the campaign is that some people lack awareness when it comes to this issue.  "These people should be educated because sometimes they feel like you have invaded their territory and it is also cultural because men have been doing these things for decades and nothing was done to them.

"People have got away with this and some women are walking around with scars of events that took place when they were young," she said. She said that people who have been convicted of these offences should also be taught in prisons the consequences of their own actions on the children because most of them have no remorse as they think that it is their right.

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