LATEST findings by police that 2 405 children were raped in 10 months have sent shivers among women in the country as the cases seem to be soaring to an unbelievable level.
Report by Jairos Saunyama Own Correspondent
Officer Commanding the Victim Friendly Unit Commissioner Isabella Sergio, speaking at the launch of ZRP’s Crime Awareness Campaign in the capital recently, said the force was worried about the abuse of children.
“As an organisation, we are obviously worried by the fact that children continue to bear the brunt of sexual offences.
“The majority of reported cases have been perpetrated against children under the age of 18 years,” she said.
This is not about juveniles only, but women in general are being victimised by rapists.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstats) Quarterly Digest of Statistics, a total of 2 195 cases of rape were reported in the first five months of 2012.
The recent findings by Zimstats and the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (Unicef) that one in three girls is raped or sexually assaulted before she reaches the age of 18, is a clear sign of the girl child living in fear of the known.
According to police, rape cases are being fuelled by a number of reasons, one being carelessness of parents and other custodians.
Sergio said rapists seemed to take advantage of children’s naïveté, vulnerability and inability to protect themselves.
“Parents leave minors in the custody of male relatives or their neighbours as they go about their activities. This exposes them to sexual abuse,” she said.
Sergio said during school days, some children go to and from school unaccompanied, with some of them using shortcuts such as secluded areas, thereby exposing themselves to danger.
“What has become more worrisome now is that boys under the age of 18 years have developed a habit of sexually abusing young girls below 12 years.
“These teenage boys take advantage of unaccompanied minors left in their custody or waylay them in secluded footpaths, bushy areas and maize fields, as well as along the distances between schools and homesteads, especially in rural areas,” she said.
Zimstats and Unicef found out that of all the child sexual abuse cases, females accounted for over 90% of child survivors of sexual abuse. Most of the girls aged 12 and above were sexually abused in the homes of their peers and boyfriends.
Girls below 12 were mostly abused at their homes. Children aged 13 to 16 years old made up close to 50% of the cases with over 70% of all abuses happening in urban areas.
Over 90% of child sexual abuse perpetrators were males and the average perpetrator age was 22.
Survivors reported that they had a pre-existing relationship with the perpetrators in most of the cases.
Children reported that the sexual abuse occurred more than once in over 40% of the cases.
Of the abused children, only 2,4% received support and care with 97,6% not receiving any form of treatment.
People interviewed bemoaned lack of stringent laws in dealing with perpetrators of rape.
“The continuing rise of rape cases is something that needs to be dealt with and if no tangible measures are taken, then we are living in hell.
“Statistics must guide policymakers in coming up with solutions to clamp down on sexual abuse of the girl child,” said Patrick Mheta, a Harare resident.
Radical feminist Betty Makoni is always saying not enough is being done by policymakers to stop rapists from victimising innocent girls.
“Many times I took little girls to police stations where the rapist was right there with us and we did not need any parade of the rapist to identify him at all. But the next day we saw him walking scot free on bail which lasted forever,” she said.
David Chidende, programmes officer for lobby group Youth Information Education for Behavioural Change said there was need for stringent laws to protect the girl child.
“The ever-increasing number on rape cases is worrisome. We really don’t know what policymakers are thinking of, but we will advocate for redressing of the law on sexual abuse,” he said.
Sociologist Darlington Nyabiko said sexual abuse of girls was extreme because a good number of girls who suffered from sexual abuse did not raise any alarm.
“The disturbing statistics that only a percentage of victims of sexual abuse received support clearly reveals that many victims do not report.
“Many girls are being sexually abused and in some cases, they are even being raped. But they tend to keep quite,” he said.
Nyabiko added that most girls lacked knowledge on what sexual abuse was.
“A number of girls seem not to know what sexual abuse is and hence most of them are silent victims of sexual abuse.”
There are fears that the number could be higher as some cases go unreported.
But it is in May where the statistics were gory, as 470 women were subjected to sexual assaults. This translated to 15 women being raped daily or an equivalent of one woman being abused every 90 minutes.
The statistics revealed that in January, 427 women were raped, while in February 428 were abused.
In March, 425 women were abused, with the number rising to 445 the following month and peaking at 470 in May.
However, this could be a slight improvement from 2011 figures, where a total of 5 449 cases were recorded — easily the highest figure compared to the two preceding years.
In 2010, 4 450 cases where reported while in 2009, 3 481 cases were recorded.
During the first five months of the year, 940 cases of indecent assault were recorded, as compared to 472 in the corresponding period in 2011.
A total of 1 610 cases of indecent assault were recorded in 2011, with 2 484 and 1 124 in 2010 and 2009 respectively.