Violated by the same people that ought to protect them, what is the fate of the Ugandan girl child? Daily Monitor on 25th March reported over 1,000 girls to have been defiled with 200 victims having been abused by their fathers.
It’s not stressed enough how children ought to be protected by their parents/caregivers but what if the child’s enemy lives under the same roof under the guise of a parent?
The United Convention on the Rights of the Child advocates for all appropriate legislative, administrative, social, and educational measures to protect children from all forms of violence including defilement and sexual abuse. Additionally, the UN Sustainable Development Goals set an agenda for global human development endeavors from 2015–2030 in which they acknowledged defilement as a fundamental obstacle to the health of the children and society as a whole.
Going by the SDG targets, we should not still be having such a high number of cases of defilement in 2021.
Today’s parents are busier than ever with work or running businesses that little time is left to fend to children’s needs or notice when a child’s behavior changes. During the COVID19 lockdown last year, parents and caregivers had unrivaled time to spend time with children. Child Protection Specialists stressed the need for parents to be deliberate about spending time with children, to bond with them, to strengthen parent-child trust so that children feel safe to report any unbecoming behavior towards them. It was also stressed that if parents are keen and pay attention to children, they would notice cries for help, even the nonverbal cues exhibited through a change of behavior such as when a child who is normally bubbly becomes withdrawn or violent among other traits that would depict that the child is battling something within.
This is where the aspect of work, life, and family balance comes into play. When a parent concentrates and spends more time working, in the long run, children are neglected putting them at risk of being abused.
Research conducted on psychosocial outcomes among children affected by defilement from Nairobi suburbs, Kenya, established that victims develop depression. Accordingly, caretakers/parents reported that children affected showed persistent anxiety, fears, feelings of hopelessness, and depressive symptoms like anger, irritability, sleep changes, and loss of interest in daily activities.
I also recently read a story from Facebook of a woman whose sister was defiled by their father when they were young. The sister had never disclosed this information until recently in adulthood when she decided to confide in her sister adding that she was going to kill their father for what he had done to her as a child.
This is one example of the extent of the trauma, defilement victims carry with them especially if they are not supported to deal with the turmoil of emotions earlier on through proven methods like counseling and psychotherapy.
Another study online indicates that children rarely disclose sexual abuse immediately after the event. In case of lack of visible harm on the child, caregivers/parents who are not highly observant to subtle changes exhibited by children, the defilement may go undetected.
Unfortunately, we also live in a society where children are easily ignored or brushed off to be making up stories when they report cases of defilement. This is in addition to people being more mindful of protecting their family reputations more than addressing the bigger challenge at hand which ought to be ensuring the child’s safety going forward and ensuring that they get the necessary support. It’s also difficult for a child to confide in their parent/caregiver when the relationship between them is one of fear and intimidation. Child protection specialists stress the need for parents/caregivers to bond with their children to create an atmosphere where a child can confide in them.
We need to adopt a culture of listening to children and believing them when they report situations that make them uncomfortable. A society where perpetrators of sexual violence against children go unpunished is no safe place for children and especially the girl child to achieve their full potential.
Securing our future is more than having loads of money in the bank, it is in creating an environment where children can thrive, right from their homes to the outside world beyond their homes. While the government has a mandate towards the safeguarding of children, the primary role of protecting children lies with parents/caregivers. If parents are not checking in with their children to see how they are doing, that’s how abuse such as defilement goes undetected and unreported with offenders left to continue abusing more children.
Communications Officer, ChildFund International