Child sexual abuse remains one of the most heartless crimes in Zimbabwe. It is a cruel act that has shattered the lives of many children, particularly the girl child.
Victims often suffer a multiplicity of negative effects; one of them being poor performance in social and educational activities. In other words, the prospects of the victims succeeding in future become diminished.
Horrifying cases of sexual abuse involving children are being brought before the courts daily but society is not learning anything from the deterrent sentences slapped on offenders. In fact, the scourge is actually worsening.
In some of the cases being brought before the courts, young girls are being impregnated and infected with the deadly HIV, while some of them are killed after being abused by the perpetrators in a bid to conceal the crime.
Yet a lot others are suffering in silence for fear of being labelled by society.
Victims of sexual abuse, according to research, are traumatised by the abuse itself not to mention the subsequent problems that arise in the family, be they health-related or the ordeal they go through while seeking justice in the courts.
The marketing and communications officer at Girl Child Network (GCN), Kumbirai Chikowero, said girls below the age of 12 ears were the hardest hit, particularly if they are orphaned and living in crowded high density areas.
"The worst part of it is that some children suffer all forms of abuse and get infected with HIV and Aids in the process. Several cases come to our attention; girls from the apostolic sects are married off as young as 12 years before reaching puberty and only get to know about adulthood when they fall pregnant," she said.
According to GCN, some of the victims seek help long after they have been violated, which shows that the family patriarchal structures are holding them hostage as sex slaves.
GCN receives an average of five sexual abuse cases per day.
In some cases, the victims approach the network when their genital organs are already rotting because of various infections passed on by their violators or when they have developed advanced symptoms of HIV and Aids-related illnesses.
The figures by the GCN are only a tip of the iceberg because they exclude statistics from remote parts of the country as well as those captured by other organisations, including the police.
Most of the cases recorded by GCN are from the dormitory city of Chitungwiza, Hwange, Rusape and Chihota communal lands in Seke.
Research also indicates that sexually abused children have low self-esteem because of the social labelling that ostracises them from their communities while creating a totally different person out of them.
Depending on the support they receive or do not get after abuse, a child may accept abuse as the norm and live with it despite the negative health and physical effects.
The victims may also fail to handle the pressures and commit suicide or run away from their homes if they have nowhere to get protection. Others may end up in even more life threatening situations.
Many of the victims tend to develop permanent physical and emotional scars that might haunt them for the rest of their lives.
In order to create a safer environment for children, experts have recommended stiffer penalties for offenders. Others have suggested the creation of a sexual offenders register.
Sexual abuse is rife among orphaned children.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund, Zimbabwe has an orphan prevalence rateof 25 percent and an Orphaned and Vulnerable Children frequency rate of 37 percent, with less than one quarter of these children, the most vulnerable citizens, receiving external support.
HIV and Aids has also created a new generation of orphans, most of whom are forced to stay on their own. And as poverty and inequalities deepen, they continue to face threats to their well-being.
The family unit, which is usually the starting point of socialisation, seem to be breaking on the seams, leaving children vulnerable and exposed to rape and other forms of abuse.
What is making the situation even worse is that some of the children are being raped by relatives in whose custody they would have been entrusted.
It is normally cases like these where the victim even ends up protecting the offender for fear of causing the arrest and incarceration of their guardians.
Police have for the past few years been urging people to report sexual abuse cases as soon as possible to make it easier to quickly hunt down the culprits.
The increase in rape cases involving minors has also seen the police establishing Victim Friendly Units in a bid to deal with such cases in a manner that encourages the victims to speak out freely.
Source: Financial Gazette (Harare, Zimbabwe)