14 January 2013

Uganda: Is Your Child At Risk of Sexual Abuse?

Photo: Wilfred Sanya/Newvision
ANPPCAN research coordinator Ruth Birungi and Information officer Maron Agaba at a news conference.

With so much evil in society today, right from home to the people we think we can trust, our children can easily fall prey to sexual abuse. Rebecca Nalunga explores how to handle the situation if it happened in your family

A five-year-old girl wasbwith her father and his business partner. They had just picked up the child from school and made a stop at an ATM to withdraw money.

Since there was a queue at the ATM, the father left his daughter in the car with his business partner, who had a clear view of the father in the queue. He then told the five-year old girl: "Come and we play." He sat her on his lap and forced her to play with his penis. The girl's father came back and they drove off.

When the girl got to school, she told her teachers that 'uncle' had forced her to 'play'. The teachers, in turn, told the parents who took the girl for a medical check-up.

The examination revealed that there had been no penetration, but on closer analysis, semen was found on the dress the girl had been wearing.

When the girl's father confronted his business partner about the matter, he fled the office and has not been seen again.

Are they safe?

Apollo Kigonya, a teacher at Lubiri High School, believes that the school environment is relatively safe for children compared to home. "At school, the children are safe because they are in class, a roll call is taken to determine the whereabouts of every child and there is continuous monitoring.

Back at home, however, parents assume that the children are just as safe, so they leave them unguarded. Young children should be within the parents' reach or at least where they can be seen by them," he says.

Resty Mubiru, a housewife, does exactly that. She runs a grocery shop, but she never leaves her baby at home. "The older three go to school and I go to the shop with my baby yet I have a housemaid. When they return from school, I lock up, go home and oversee lunch, then come back to the shop with all of them," she explains. "They do their homework here," she says, pointing to a small adjoining room with a table and three plastic chairs at the back of the shop.

Mubiru adds that she never allows her male friends near her daughters, even if it is to run errands. Dorothy Kalungi took it a notch higher and quit her job to become a stay-at-home mother after her neighbour's baby was defi led by the houseboy.

"I was shaken by the news of my neighbour's misfortune that I fired my houseboy and maid. I developed a household routine, which I follow to the letter, and decided I would find another job when the children went to boarding school," she says.

Mohammad operates a chapati stall by the roadside, but is appalled by the number of children who loiter around late in the evenings. "It is common to see children playing by this busy roadside even as late as 8:00pm. Do such parents know where their children are or don't they realise they are missing?" he wonders.

The Police say

Annette Masika, from the child and family protection unit at Jinja Road Police Station, blames the high rate of defilement on parents' negligence. "In most of the cases we receive, the perpetrators from around the neighbourhood. Parents do not mind about the whereabouts of their children, leaving them at risk," she says.

The most affected age group is between 12 and 15 years and sometimes the suspect runs away or the parents bring him to the Police when they go to report the case. She adds that most defilers are drug abusers, relatives and elders in the family. When a child has been defiled, Masika advises against bathing them or washing their clothes immediately as this erases the evidence.

They should be taken to the nearest health centre and first aid administered then to the Police surgeon for examination and investigations. All this not withstanding, Masika cautions parents to be extremely mindful of who they leave their children with, and who they let into their homes.

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