Fungai Lupande Court Reporter
The injury or loss of a young life whether by accident or natural circumstances is a tear in the fabric of humanity’s immortal soul. Zimbabwe is witnessing a surge in child abuse cases owing to a myriad of factors. From abusive step parents, close relatives and even biological parents, the country has witnessed an increase in incidents of child abuse. Media reports and cases that are before the courts are a reflection of the magnitude of the problem.
Child abuse causes suffering to children and has long-term consequences.
Preventing child abuse before it starts is possible and requires Government, non-governmental and private organisations, community groups, and individuals to join hands. In a recent shocking incident a 35-year-old woman sliced her eight-year-old niece’s buttocks with a razor blade as a way of “disciplining” her.
The girl was in the habit of peeping while she was having sex with her husband. The woman also used to assault the girl with a wire since 2010, until the time of her arrest. The magistrate who presided over this case said the woman’s method of disciplining was unacceptable and no parent would assault a child with a wire.
Last year an eight-year-old girl was brutally raped twice by a 32-year-old man.
The minor suffered extensive multiple tears of the hymen and the magistrate described it as horrific and as something she had never dealt with in her 10 years of experience. The eight-year-old girl was found kneeling near the crime scene after failing to walk home. What is disappointing is that the rapist was someone the child knew, a neighbour.
Child abuse includes all types of physical, emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect and negligence which results in or potential harm to the child’s health, development or dignity. Beyond the health and social consequences of child abuse there is an economic impact which includes costs of hospitalisation, mental health treatment and child welfare.
A three-year-old girl who was severely assaulted by her 20-year-old stepmother got help after she was hospitalised.
The toddler collapsed due to multiple fractures and the doctor who examined her discovered marks on her body which he suspected were consistent with ill-treatment through assaults with blunt objects.
It was later discovered that the toddler was assaulted for a year since she was two. Biblically, child abuse has no room in the scriptures, which clearly enunciate that a child is a gift from God and parents are naturally expected to play their nurturing role of showing love and care.
It is everyone’s responsibility to protect children. Research has shown that some of the things that adults do can be traced to what they were exposed to as children.
Severe childhood abuse is related to later self-destructive behaviour. Some of these abused children end up with a low self esteem and start to look down at themselves as rejects. There is a danger that the abused child is introduced to sexual life and promiscuity at an early age.
Female victims of sexual abuse are often thought to be at a risk of teenage pregnancy and child marriage. Because someone the child trust and depend on has caused them great harm or failed to protect them, some children may become suicidal.
What could be worse than a father, who drags his son to the toilet, defecates while he watches and orders him to wipe-off his backside. Robert Mutyambizi from Highlands did that to her son claiming that his son was good at cleaning other people’s backsides.
Other abused children find solace in drug abuse while others develop emotional problems like being temperamental, moody, unhappy and difficult.
Academically, abused children have difficulty concentrating in schools leading some to drop out of school. Some child abuse cases are reported to the police, prosecuted and perpetrators convicted. Justice is served for those cases, but what of the abuses that never come into the open.
It is everyone’s responsibility to fight for the best interests of children. Teachers and neighbours should pay attention to children who show signs of behaviour change and try to find out what is going on in their lives. More time in schools, churches and families should be dedicated in teaching children their rights.
Some children don’t know that what is happening to them is abuse. Some studies suggested that children who see their parents being violent to each other may see violence as a way of solving conflicts.
There is need for community support groups so that society is trained and educated on child abuse, being positive role models and disciplining children thoughtfully. Societies sometimes victimise abused children by labelling and making them a subject of ridicule, furthering the abuse.
This can lead the abused child to drop out of school or take to the streets. Support groups will help members of the public to share information and make children a priority. `If anyone suspects that a child might be ill-treated they should alert Child Line or the police and they will investigate the matter.
In many cases neighbours watch children being abused and think it is none of their business.
Funny enough when the police start investigating the abuse this is when they call for the arrest of the perpetrator and chronicle the cruelty.
A stitch in time serves nine. Parents should take time to investigate and know well the relatives or neighbours they entrust their children’s custody.
Some of the child minders end up abusing children.
In 2014 a video of a Ugandan nanny who tortured a two-year-old went viral after the parents placed camera in the house.
It is also fundamental that when parents separate they sit down and decide the well being of their children.
In 2013, the Magistrates’ Court dealt with a case in which a young girl was ill-treated by her stepmother.
Ironically, her father was a police officer.
On that particular day the girl had a running stomach. Irked by frequently accompanying the young girl outside the stepmother threatened her.
Scared, the minor soiled herself, little did she know what was coming her way.
The stepmother smeared the child’s body with her faeces and shoved some in her mouth.
After spending the rest of the night with faeces in her mouth, the minor was helped by a family friend the following morning.
Parents should take time to listen and pay attention to their children.
The girl was later threatened by her father not to say anything in court that would send her stepmother to jail.
This is just one of miserable cases when parents fail their children.
More funding should be channelled towards probation officers and Child welfare so that they do their work diligently.
More children organisations are necessary and they should be seen active in protecting them.
The maximum sentence for ill treating a child is five years if the perpetrator wanted to benefit from the abuse, for example, benefiting a house after the abused child’s death.
The minimum sentence is two years.