In all democratic nations, despite what form of governance is practiced, there are certain commonalities or some things held high by both individuals and laws of the land. Some of these commonalities are the fundamental human rights which in some circles are regarded as God-given rights to the individuals. Prah (2016) captured it best in his introduction while assessing ‘Students’ Sexual Abuse in Public Senior High Schools in Ghana’, he wrote:
“All human beings have some fundamental rights and freedoms that they are entitled to. These human rights and freedoms include: right to life, right to personal liberty, right to dignity of human person, and right to privacy. These rights are supposed to go with responsibilities and obligations: such as reporting criminals to the police, respecting the basic human rights of fellow human beings, defending the nation and rendering national service to the nation.” In addition to this, chapter 5 of the 1992 constitution also captured these inalienable rights.
Despite these rights, many Ghanaian children are subjected to many forms of inhuman treatment. These include severe flogging, sexual abuse and bullying, corporal punishment among others. All these are not different from other democratic nations in Africa, Europe and across the globe. My focus, however, is on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA).
Kingsley Nyarko et al. (2014) citing (Peters, Wyatt & Finkelhor, 1986) defined child sexual abuse as any unwanted or coerced or tricked sexual interaction with a child. Such unwanted sexual interaction may include kissing, fondling, oral sex, anal sex, and intercourse.
Ibid also identified that Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a sub-set of Child Abuse – of which the abuse may be physical, psychological or sexual. It explained that Physical child abuse involves the direct infliction of pain and injuries on a child. Psychological abuse, on the other hand, is the coercive or aversive acts intended to produce emotional harm or threat of harm. This can also mean that incidences of child sexual abuse can be in the form of contact and non-contact sexual abuse.
These inhumane treatments and abuses are more prevalent in developing countries than developed ones, as will be demonstrated later in this article assessing Child Sexual Abuse. One may ask, what is Child Sexual Abuse? Many people, upon hearing the phrase ‘child sexual abuse’, only think of it as a situation where an adult has sexual intimacy with a juvenile. However, it’s vice goes beyond that. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 223 million children (150 million girls and 73 million boys) have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence globally (United Nations on Violence against Children [UNVAC], 2006).
Under-Reporting of CSA
One may ask why the attention on Child Sexual Abuse(CSA); in most societies, issues of Child Sexual Abuse are often under-reported/unrecognised while perpetuators of such acts go scot-free without facing repercussions for their actions. In Finland and other advanced countries, for instance, wide attention is given to issues bordering on Child Sexual Abuse, hence the reduction in such cases. The question then asked is, why is there more reduction in cases of CSA for advanced nations than developing nations?
Amoah (1988:146) captures it well when he asserts that people fail to fight for their rights when deprived of them due to ignorance.
“West African societies are predominantly illiterate and ignorant. Under these circumstances, the people content themselves with anything that emanates from those who head institutions. To the illiterate and ignorant, those in authority are always right.”
In Ghana, however, most people seem to be totally ignorant of both their rights and responsibilities. Ignorance and poverty, among other factors, make it possible for government, state agencies and institutions to clamp on human rights and freedoms of citizens without any protest. (Prah 2016)
A child’s age, insufficient evidence and familiarity with family are some factors leading to the under-reporting of Child Sexual Abuse.
Bowman & Brundige (2014) assert that there are two stages to reporting the Crime of Child Sexual Abuse.
- Problem Recognition stage – Here, there is disclosure of abuse to another person. It involves the recognition that child sexual abuse has taken place.
- Consideration stage – This is when crime is reported to authorities, during which time the victim and family assess the costs and benefits of seeking legal remedy.
It is very important to recognise that children are so porous that they are the least persons to report issues of Sexual Abuse. “Children are least likely to tell anyone about sexual abuse in cases where the abuse is perpetrated by a trusted member of their own family. This is true universally but is especially so in Africa – where children are generally raised to be exceptionally deferential and obedient to older persons, especially males and specifically those males who have authority within their families.” (Bowman & Brundige (2014)
Perpetuators more often than not after abusing victims shift the blame, threaten victims or compensate them to keep the act a secret.
Causes of Child Sexual Abuse
Poverty has been identified as one major cause of child sexual abuse. Most of these victims come from dysfunctional families and communities of high unemployment, violence and poverty. Hence, it becomes very difficult for victims’ parents to report culprits – especially if perpetrators are the same people whom they depend on for economic survival, directly or indirectly.
It is also imperative to look at the issue from the angle of social and cultural construction of reality…especially on a continent where children are trained to be subservient to their elders.
On a closely related point, there is a notion that the male sex is dominant over the female sex right from birth: in the Akan society for instance, when a new baby is born it is not an abomination for one to ask if the woman gave birth to a human being (boy) and not otherwise (in this case, a girl). Therefore, the girl-child is trained to be submissive to the male no matter the age. Scholars thus report that the inferiority complex of female children becomes higher in such situations; consequently, in such a society it is reported that CSA cases are prevalent.
This next point may sound far-fetched: however, it is real in some societies:
Myth related to HIV/AIDS – Some scholars have through research discovered that in societies where HIV/AIDS is prevalent, for the fear of contracting it from an adult many prefer to abuse children to satisfy their desires. There are other societies which believe that having sex with a virgin girl can cure diseases – especially sexually transmitted ones such as HIV.
Inadequate Proper Legal Remedies
In Africa, especially, there is the presence of laws/legal instruments which do not ‘bite’ offenders. This is synonymous with most cases and not only CSA. It is often the case that African nations are the first to append signatures to international treaties, but are very poor in monitoring and enforcing such laws.
To add to this; research conducted by Worku (2011) revealed that most countries in Northern Africa, represented by Morocco, do not really have standing legal instruments that deal with issues of CSA – probably because it is an Islamic state and therefor CSA is considered a ‘social taboo’. However, most countries in Western Africa do seem to have legal instruments. Ghana, for example, has the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) and the Children’s Act of 1998 (Act 560).
Effects of CSA
Child Sexual Abuse has immense effects on victims and survivors, especially their psychological well-being.
Another pertinent problem suffered by these children is that they sometimes have to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancies at such a tender age. Indeed, these girls are not physically and mentally prepared to go through the maternal cycle, or to cope with the demands which follow child-birth. Some of these girls even lose their lives in the process.
There is also the issue of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. These infections strip them of their pride and end up spreading wildly into generations to come. As such diseases like HIV/AIDS affect not just the mother but also the unborn child, Child-marriage is a big problem and the statistics on child marriages globally are really sickening. According to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), one-third of girls in developing countries are married before they reach 18 years – out of which every 1 in 9 are married off before they turn 15.
Intensive mass public education, programmes that encourage equality of gender, encouraging more reports and research on CSA are some remedies recommended to curb Child Sexual Abuse.
Exploitation of children is an atrocity and has rightly been called the ‘ultimate evil’. It is a perversion of the natural order whereby adults should be there to protect and nurture children, not to take advantage of their emotionally and physically vulnerable state.
- Amoah, G.Y. (1998). Groundwork of Government for West Africa. Ilorin: Gbele Press Limited.
- Cynthia Grant Bowman & Elizabeth Brundige (2014). Child Sex Abuse within the Family in sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and Change in Current Legal and Mental Health Responses. Cornell International Law Journal. Volume 47. Issue 2
- Kweku Joseph Prah (2016,) Students’ Sexual Abuse in Public Senior High Schools in Ghana. Dama International Journal of Researchers: ISSN: 2343-6743, Vol 1, Issue 5, Page 71-83.
- Kingsley Nyarko et al (2014): The Effect of Child Abuse on Children’s Psychological Health. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. 3, No. 4, 2014, pp. 105-112. doi: 10.11648/j.pbs.20140304.11
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