For the first time in a long time, many of us are spending long hours with our children, thanks to the Covid19 lockdown. The keener parents are beginning to observe and notice their children’s special traits and behaviour while others have continued to stay glued to their phones and laptops, oblivious to what’s going on in their children’s lives.
However, I would like each one of you reading this to stop and ask yourself, are my children safe at home during this lockdown? Do I know where my child is, with whom and the games they are playing?You are probably looking at that question and saying to yourself, “definitely, my children are safe; I am with them after all, aren’t I?”. But are you really?
In most of our Ugandan homes, we are currently locked up with some of our relatives, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, grandchildren, and the list goes on, who normally spend their holidays with us or regularly come to visit. These same people are actually a Godsend, most of the time, as they help us with the children and we can continue to run our normal lives, comfortable in the knowledge that someone trustworthy is taking care of the children at home.
But here is a scary statistic; did you know that 95% of sexually abused children are abused by people that are typically known and trusted caregivers? That 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is a victim of sexual abuse by someone they know? That’s right. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are usually people that the child knows and trusts.
Child sexual abuse also known as child sexual molestation, is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society; It includes, fondling of a child’s genitalia,coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, exposing a child to pornography, and the exploitative use of a child in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices.
Even scarier still is that incest or intrafamilial abuse accounts for about one-third of all child sexual abuse cases and because it happens under your roof, it could have been happening for weeks, even years, before you notice since perpetrators have mastered the art of controlling a child’s mind with words like, “I will kill you”, “Your mummy will beat you”, “Your mummy will blame you”, “No one will believe you”, etcetera. In short, trust NO ONE! In a Police report released on April 17th, it was reported that during the first 14-day lockdown period alone, police registered 28 cases of child abuse.
In my work, I have come across stories that would make anyone wonderwhat humankind has turned into. For example, we are currently dealing with a 14-year-old who was abused by her father since she was four years old. The father died when she was eight and was taken to live with her grandfather who also started to abuse her until she was twelve and became pregnant with her grandfather’s child whom she carried to term and takes care of.
To say that this little girl has suffered trauma would be an understatement. Thankfully though, she was rescued and is beginning to learn to live life as a child, albeit, with a child. She is just one of the many other stories that come to us every day; of young girls whose future has been robbed by the people meant to guarantee it, whose lives have been torn apart and who have been forced to grow up very quickly, never knowing what it means to be a child that is loved, protected and cared for.
Most of us also mistakenly think that child sexual abuse happens to girls only. Watch over your boystoo. It is a fact thatboys too suffer sexual abuse in ways that may be different from girls, but equally harmful.
Perpetrators gain yours and your children’s trust and are given access to them easily because they live with you. My advice to you dear parents, especially during this Covid19 lockdown, is, please be on high alert and keep watch over your children. Look out for signs that your child has been abused such as isolation, aggressiveness, anxiety or irrational fear, difficulty in walking, poor social interaction, sudden drop in academic performance, and sometimes, uncontrollable display of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Consider who bathes and dresses your children; be mindful of closed bedroom doors during the day and drawn curtains, all in the name of playing games; observe your child’s behaviour around certain people. Does your child become overly clingy to you when you’re around the house? Does the child cry and try to wiggle free of that person’s arms when you send him or her to them?
Furthermore, remember to give your children sex education appropriate for their age. From the age of two a child is due for sex education.Teach them privacy – “Do not see or touch my private parts”;tell them to speak out; and teach them to respect one another’s privacy in the house.
Please remember, children do not lie about abuse. If your child tells you that someone is trying to touch them inappropriately, please believe the child and respond accordingly by reporting to the authorities; police or Local Council Chairman. It is important to break the silence and not cover up for the perpetrators in the guise of “protecting the family name”, and to seek counselling for both you and your children if you are faced with this issue.
Remember, the more you help, the less the child hurts.To report Child Sexual Abuse, contact The Remnant Generation on 0705123870 or Uganda Children’s Helpline (Sauti) on 116 Toll free
About Author: Annabelle Nakabiri Ssebakijje is the Founder and Executive Director of The Remnant Generation, an organisation that takes care of sexually abused pregnant teenage girls. Email: Annabelle@theremnantgeneration.org