11 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Concern As Brutal Rape of Minors Soars Legalising Rape

THE flow of urine down her legs and soiled pants have become a 'normal' part of life for seven-year-old Mitchell since the brutal rape last year by a 45-year old man entrusted to protect her. Mitchell is now incontinent (she has little or no voluntary control over urination or defecation) after the rape left her with a ruptured anus and genitalia which affects the way she excretes.

The pain accompanied by acute embarrassment is unbearable, as people stare at her wondering why a seven-year-old continues to soil her pants.

She often sheds the tears of a helpless young girl desperate for help, who feels a stranger among her peers due to matters she has no control over.

With the help of the Victim Friendly Court Zimbabwe (VFCZ), Mitchell is receiving medical, psychological, and rehabilitative support and appears to be coping.

While she might eventually recover, her innocence violently stolen from her will never be restored.

This is just one case of child sexual abuse that is on the increase in Zimbabwe, and fears are high that it could get worse as the country heads for a referendum and elections this year.

Rape, murder, emotional, verbal, psychological and economic abuse, intimidation and harassment have largely become synonymous with Zimbabwean elections and women and children in most cases are the victims.

Nor is the boy child also immune as there is an increase in the number of young boys being sodomised.

Last week in Buhera, Manicaland Province, a six-year old boy was sodomised after his family offered shelter to a stranger drenched in the pouring rain. The family allowed him to share a hut with their six-year old son, only for him to sodomise the minor.

A report was made at Murambinda Police Station but before the police could launch their investigation, the man committed suicide. His body was found hanging from a tree the following day.

In a report released in December 2012, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit said more than 2 400 children under the age of 18 were victims of rape between January and October 2012. There were 3 421 sexual abuse cases of minors reported during that period.

The report says neighbours accounted for 41% of perpetrators, while relatives left in care of children were culpable for 27%.

VFCZ national coordinator Iden Magonga said sexual abuse of children was not about satisfying sexual urge but was instead an issue of power over a weaker, vulnerable group.

Magonga said: "Sexual abuse of children is usually committed not for sexual gratification but it's a power mentality and those who commit this crime are often cowards who cannot face up to their own match, but feel powerful by abusing the vulnerable groups."

He said cases of sodomy were worringly on the increase.

Magonga said his organisation faced problems in dealing with child marriages in the Marange Apostolic sect.

"The Apostolic sect is a closed community that has a culture of not accommodating outsiders. We have had incidences where we would go there, approach a certain family after tipoffs of sexual abuse. However, when we get there and talk to the girl child she would deny ever being raped, instead saying she was being well looked after; the law is then handicapped."

Rape cases have been on the increase globally with the latest shocking incident being the brutal gang rape of a 23-year old trainee physiotherapist by six youths in India.

The rape sparked an international outcry and massive demonstrations in the country resulting in police reacting swiftly to arrest the six suspects.

Unfortunately the female student died from complications caused by the callousness of the rape.

According to the Preliminary Report of the National Baseline Survey on the Life Experiences of Adolescents in Zimbabwe released by the government in 2012, approximately one third of girls experience sexual violence before their 18th birthday and only 2% of these seek care and support, while approximately one in 10 males aged between 18-24 experienced sexual abuses in childhood.

Unicef chief of communications Victor Chinyama said: "We do not know if there is an increase in incidences as these prevalence surveys are unique, particularly looking at sexual violence amongst children. Statistics also only reflect cases reported, and we know sexual violence is always under-reported due to fear by survivors due to shame, stigma and persecution."

The issue of sexual abuse has sparked debate on social networks with people calling for steeper penalties against those committing the heinous acts.

Social commentator Beatrice Tonhodzayi-Ngondo wrote on her Facebook wall: "The next time I read of a girl being raped in this country I am going to scream. Surely, has this become normal? What's even sadder is that in most of these cases, the girls are being raped by close family or friends and they are also getting infected with HIV. What kind of people will do this to their own children? How does one salivate over a two-year old? We need to make noise and make noise now for this to change and get the attention it deserves."

Last December the government launched the Protocol on the Multi-sectoral Management of Sexual Abuse and Violence through Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which provides a guideline for survivors of sexual abuse and violence, and their advocates, on seeking professional help at rural, district and provincial levels. At the launch, Judicial Services Commission secretary Justice Rita Makarau pledged to ensure magistrates complete hearing cases related to sexual abuse and violence within three days of being brought to court

"I have promised on behalf of the Chief Magistrate that all trials of sexual nature shall, once commenced, be disposed of in three days," said Makarau. "This assumes that the police would have completed the docket within seven days; that the probation officer's report or the social welfare report will be prepared within seven days."

"Sadly, sexual violence sometimes is used as a weapon in conflicts. As we go towards elections now, there is something that we should bear in mind that sometimes sexual abuse and violence are used as weapons of power. To me sexual abuse and violence are a power game and an abuse of power by whoever believes that they have got power over the next person," Makarau said.

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