Child sexual abuse soars
WHEN 12-year-old Chipo was handpicked by a new teacher to become the class monitor for the year, she could not believe it.
She thanked him wholeheartedly for rewarding her efforts, not knowing that the gesture would turn out to be the proverbial witch’s tit, the bitter after-taste which would give her excruciating heartache her entire life.
Soon she would find out the ugly truth.
One of her duties was collecting exercise books and leaving them at the teacher’s house for marking. Being a well-nurtured girl, she diligently carried out her duties to the appreciation of her teacher who would give her some coins, fruits or sweets to thank her for the sterling job she was doing.
After collecting her peers’ exercise books following a General Paper mock exam one Friday afternoon, Chipo, an orphan, proudly set off for the teachers’ quarters.
Unfortunately, that day her teacher had a sinister motive: He raped her. The poor girl was threatened with death if she ever opened up to anyone. Besides, who would believe her?
She could not believe that the teacher she had held in such high esteem would rape her. She hated herself for trusting him. All the pieces of the puzzle began to come together as it dawned on her that she had been chosen for a reason: The teacher wanted to rape her.
The barbaric act did not stop as the rapist teacher continued abusing her. Then one day, she thought to spill the beans, exposing the teacher to a community that had trusted him with their children. The rest is history
The scourge of rape has become rampant in the country’s schools.
In 2005, the education fraternity suffered one of its major shocks when James Sangarwe, a general hand at Macheke Government Primary School, sexually abused 34 minors aged between nine and 12.
Sangarwe later died mysteriously in prison while serving a 22-year jail sentence.
In another incident, a student teacher at Wise Owl Primary School in Marondera was last year sentenced to 18 months behind bars for fondling nine female pupils during a music lesson. Two of the pupils were aged 12 and the rest were aged 11.
Recently, a suspended Hartzell High School headmaster allegedly sexually abused an orphaned minor and infected her with a sexually transmitted disease.
A Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstats) report for the fourth quarter of 2015 shows that there has been a significant increase in sexual abuse since 2010.
In 2010, 4 450 rape cases where recorded; the figure rose to 5 446 in 2011 and reached 5 717 in 2013. The cases rose to 7 551 and 7 752 in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
An average of 750 cases were recorded monthly in 2015, with October recording the highest number of rape cases at 782, signifying the gravity of the crisis.
Sexual exploitation and abuse of school children is becoming a serious problem. Sexual abuse exists within established institutions in Zimbabwe, hidden by a veil of deep-seated cultural mores and attitudes towards children.
The abuse of girls in schools, whether by male pupils or teachers, is part of a wider problem and is also a reflection of society-wide violence by males against females.
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This occurs in both the private and public domains, and is a consequence of the low social and economic status afforded women.
Sometimes sending one’s girl child to an institution of learning has become a perilous exercise akin to throwing the child into a pit of carnivores.
A few years ago, the profession of teaching was revered. Teaching was a responsibility, an assumption of parental functions besides just teaching children to read and write.
Teachers had a responsibility to produce well-rounded, well balanced individuals equipped with moral, social, religious and intellectual acumen.
Sadly, like fables, these attributes are now increasingly becoming the stuff of lore and legend.
In our depraved times, children are not seen as fragile saplings that need strong support; or clay to be moulded into exemplary finished products, but as prey to satisfy perverted sexual appetites.
Social worker, Lloyd Moyo, said some teachers betray the children’s trust and use it to exploit the minors.
“The abuse of trust by teachers who mainly target orphans and vulnerable children is rampant. They take advantage of the children’s vulnerability to abuse them as noted by the UNICEF 2011 Report. Research has also shown that most paedophiles tend to seek employment in sectors that give them easy access to children,” he said.
To add salt to injury, sexual aggression goes largely unpunished; dominant male behaviour by both pupils and teachers is not questioned and pupils are strongly encouraged to conform to the gender roles and norms of interaction shaped around them. This sends messages to boys and girls about what can be tolerated and therefore normalises abusive behaviour.
Section 19 (1) of the Constitution provides that the State must adopt policies and measures to ensure that in matters relating to children, the best interests of children are paramount.
Zimbabwe ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in September 1990, which emphasises the protection of children against all forms of abuse and harmful treatment.
Despite having an impressive piece of legislation on child protection, Zimbabwean children are always at the mercy of sexual perverts because the courts are letting them go without deterrent custodial sentences.
Last year, 19-year old Future Ncube was spared jail by Gwanda regional magistrate Joseph Mabeza who sentenced him to 210 hours of community service for impregnating a 12-year old minor.
Another 22-year old man from Victoria Falls, Mlamuli Ndlovu, was also sentenced by another magistrate to 280 hours of community service for impregnating a 13-year old girl.
The sentences prompted Bulawayo East Member of Parliament, Thabitha Khumalo, to argue that “the judiciary was committing genocide”.
Paedophiles were being sent for community service in schools where vulnerable children spend most of their time. To make matters worse, the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services does not monitor these criminals, leaving the task to busy headmasters.
It would appear that authorities are not doing enough to ensure that the perpetrators are not only brought to book, but are effectively monitored even after serving their sentences through a sex offenders register — a system designed to allow government authorities to keep track of the residence and activities of sex offenders to protect communities against rapists and criminals.
A US$5 million budget was made available in 2011 to set up the register, but up to now it has not been completed. South Africa completed its own register in 2010 and the United States is the only country with a sex offender’s register which is accessible to the public.
In a study of 15-year olds by a South African hospital, 45 percent of the children reported having been the target of sexual abuse. Thirty-one percent reported being physically abused, while sexual abuse was suspected but not confirmed in another 14 percent of the children.
A study in Uganda revealed that 49 percent of sexually active primary school girls say they had been forced to have sexual intercourse.
Analysts who spoke to the Financial Gazette said these cases are normally swept under the carpet because students are rarely believed.
“In Zimbabwe, poverty, HIV, and family migration have resulted in economic and social instability leaving children especially susceptible to abuse. A combination of an ingrained societal ‘culture of silence’ and low status of females affords school teachers and administrators the opportunity to take sexual advantage of students with impunity,” said Nyaradzai Matiza, an expert in child issues.
Social commentator, Admire Mare, said: “I think what needs to be done is to conscientise children on their rights and responsibilities. This includes awareness raising and workshops at schools. There is need to introduce toll free lines for children to report cases of abuses which can include the use of WhatsApp, suggestion boxes and other reporting mechanisms so that the abused can report. The law must be explicit that sexual abuse of school children carries a mandatory custodial sentence as well as summary dismissal from the service.”
Part of the UNICEF handbook on Child Rights and Child Care for Caregivers in Zimbabwe reads: “Sexual abuse and physical abuse often have devastating impact on a child’s life and physical health, including death, permanent disablement, long-term injury, STI, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancy for girls. Psychologically, abuse might implant the sense of fear, anger and helplessness in a child. The child can suffer from depression, anxiety, sleep problems (bedwetting, nightmares) and restlessness. Many will lack self-confidence and a positive view of themselves.”
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