Child defilement - A societal menace
The rate at which cases of child defilement are soaring in Ghana, today, is upsetting and irritating and if left unrestrained, could result in more children being permanently deformed, contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and testing HIV positive, or even dying.
Cases of child defilement have become more rampant and complicated that some perpetrators execute their barbaric acts with impunity and go unpunished simply because these cases have not been reported to the appropriate authorities.
Three cultural factors, child defilement myth acceptance, patriarchal nuances, and issues relating to collective societal shame, are likely reasons why some victims and their relatives are reluctant, or refuse to disclose these inhumane acts.
Globally, the major causes of defilement of children include poverty, war and natural disasters, economic injustices, disputes between the rich and the poor and large-scale migration and urbanisation.
Other factors include the lack of education, disintegration of the family and social values, social attitudes, lack of protection to children at risk and underfunding or failure of social services.
Poor system of governance and inadequate efficient and effective legal systems also fail to prevent injustices towards children or to protect them from acts of violence.
Child defilement occurs when adults use children for sexual gratification or expose them to sexual activities.
The Criminal Code Act 1998 (Act 554) section 101, subsection 1 defines defilement as the natural or unnatural canal knowledge of any child under 16.
Section 101, subsection 2 further states that whoever naturally or unnaturally carnally knows any child under 16, whether with or without his or her consent commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and not more than 25 years.
Again, though many attempts have been made by concerned bodies leading to stiffer punishments for such crimes in the courts, and despite the condemnation of such immoral practices in our churches, these happenings continue.
This vice is not only threatening the spirituality of modern society, but is also an infringement on the vital rights of children thereby stifling the efforts to meet the millennium development goals, especially on child health.
What is more worrying is that most of the abusers are people who these children depend on physically, mentally, emotionally and religiously for their growth. These people may include their brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, teachers, traditional rulers and opinion leaders in their communities, and even their own parents, to mention but a few.
While there is clearly, no single reason to explain the vice, the moral decay could possibly be explained by one or more of the following:
Many men who were diagnosed to have HIV/AIDS have developed an irrational belief that having sex with a minor will bring them healing. Therefore in their search for healing, such people will find an opportune time to convert this belief into practice.
There is a belief in some cultures that a woman who comes to maturity should undergo sexual cleansing by sleeping with a man.
These girls find themselves being abused in the name of walking along the path of culture.
Again, contributing to these vices are traditional beliefs where a chief thinks he can sleep with whoever he wants as they are his subjects.
Quest for wealth
Traditional healers may sometimes advise their clients to sleep with minors in the quest for riches. In such cases, they may try by all means to encourage their clients to become involved in such practices whether verbally or with the use of charms.
Research has shown that at least about 10 per cent of the people who sexually abuse children may have psychiatric problems possibly as a result of the use of substances like alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana (tetrahydrocarbinoid). Conditions like Bipolar I, where the patient shows episodes of depression and mania, may increase one’s sexual drive, and thus lead to even abusing minors.
Some people have attributed acts of child defilement to indecent dressing, an occurrence that has grown considerably in our country. However, this does not explain cases of babies as young as 12 months in diapers.
Reduced parental guidance
With the increase in pornographic materials on the Internet, there is an urgent need for parents to offer parental guidance to minors. Some defilers are just paedophilic, that is, persons who are somehow by nature inclined to indulge in sexual relationships with children, or contending with psychiatric disorders.
Defilement is horrible and inhuman and, for that matter, forms part of violence against children such that it should never be countenanced in a civilised society, regardless of the status of the culprits, because of the trauma it inflicts on the innocent victims.
Many families do not report child defilement cases to the system because they fear the unknown, they feel the system do not have appropriate remedies for them, or the perpetrators are familiar to them and so they resort to local solutions.
More often than not, information on the extent of child defilement is anecdotal at best. Studies undertaken indicate under-reporting due to.
• Children not being able to “verbalise” that abuse has taken place.
• Threats by offenders, especially those familiar to the victims.
• Difficulties faced by children in reporting to parents.
• Cultural factors involving family privacy.
• Respect for adults by children.
• Barriers in the police and legal systems in accepting child informants.
• Affected children fear reprisals or investigations.
• Children not being able to give adequate evidence in court
• Stigma and social problems after reporting making people hide their problems.
• Lack of time and awareness creation by professionals in contact with children.
• Children learn to accommodate the abuse as a way of surviving the experience.
Child defilement can be extremely traumatic as the girls who are defiled, have put their trust in the adults in question and when defiled, their little minds go into the magical world to blank out the trauma.
Some children may not remember they have ever been defiled until they reach adulthood and something triggers off the memories, specifically marriage when they are expected to satisfy their husbands sexually.
An abused child is most often a confused little person trying to find his/her identity.
She feels guilty and angry and also experiences emotional sadness and trauma, as well as low self-esteem.
The amount of trauma and pain inflicted on the innocent victims leaves an indelible mark on their minds.
Most children are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases including the deadly HIV/AIDS through defilement, since they are not able to negotiate safe sex.
With so many churches mushrooming nowadays, it is high time we all worked together with the government, and key stakeholders in fostering child protection; otherwise, the future of our children would be in great danger.
To curb this menace, educational campaigns by both the public and the private sector need to be intensified. The following are key:
• Women should be empowered economically to be able to fend for themselves and their children without necessarily depending on their spouses, to be able to take action against their children being defiled.
• Care centres should be put in place to accommodate victims and cater for them. It is important to keep them away from those defiling them.
• Cultural practices that encourage child defilement should be abolished.
• To organise workshops and seminars in communities to sensitise people to the need to report persons who commit the crime to the appropriate authorities instead of settling it at home.
• The threat by some perpetrators that victims would die if they reported the incidence is gradually waning and must be refuted.
• Since poverty is one of the causes of child defilement, parents must be empowered economically to prevent children who are supposed to be in school, from going round to sell.
• Children must also be educated on their rights and the need to be careful when a man invites them to an isolated place.
To men who take advantage of the vulnerability of children and defile them, it is time they desist from such barbaric acts, for definitely, the law will one day catch up with them.