By Cuthbert Mavheko
OUR moral barometer as a nation is falling rapidly, with many terrible things, antithetical to our cultural norms and values, happening daily.
The trend is so frightening in what it portends and should shake every responsible citizen out of complacency.
Let us act now before the situation explodes to unmanageable levels.
Reading newspaper headlines nowadays is like perusing through a horror novel: ‘Pastor jailed for raping toddler’; ‘Teacher sodomises 10-year-old boy’; ‘Nine-year-old Tsholotsho girl raped and impregnated’; ‘Nightclub owner remanded in custody for raping 13-year-old girl;’ ‘Prophet impregnates congregant…’.
These are some of the mindboggling stories hogging the limelight in recent times, leaving many wondering whether the end is nigh.
It is instructive to note that, last year, Zimbabwe witnessed a dramatic increase in child sexual abuse.
This, sad to say, saw some minors falling pregnant and others dying while giving birth.
Indeed, it presents a painful paradox in that, most of the reported rape cases, parents and guardians turned out to be the perpetrators.
Speaking at the commemorations of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) held at Maramba Primary School in Uzumba Maramba-Pfungwe District last year, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, expressed concern over the spike in cases of child sexual abuse in the country.
“Statistics from the police show that during the period of January to September 2022, a total of 435 rape cases were reported and, of these, 58 percent involved minors,” the Minister said.
While these statistics are alarming, they just may be a tip of the proverbial iceberg as most of the perpetrators would be close family members who, oftentimes would be protected by the family.
From a moral standpoint, it should be acknowledged that rape has serious psychological effect on an individual.
Apart from robbing the victim of his/her humanity, sexual violence also exposes the victim to sexually transmitted diseases.
Experts in the field of mental health and child sexual abuse say the trauma and emotional conflict experienced by rape victims, especially children, often leads to psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, reduced self-esteem, fear and mistrust of men when the children grow up.
Suicidal tendencies may also result.
Due to the fact that the sexual abuse of minors has soared to alarming levels in the country, women’s rights groups and child rights organisations are calling for drastic and stiffer penalties for rape perpetrators.
In fact, some radicals are now calling for castration as a form of punishment.
Cabinet, last year, approved amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to introduce stiffer penalties for perpetrators of sexual violence, with those convicted of rape or aggravated indecent assault now facing minimum mandatory 15-year jail terms.
Rapists will be sentenced to life imprisonment or “…any definite period of imprisonment of not less than 15 years,” The Sunday Mail reported, citing the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill.
Whether or not these measures will stem the tide of child sexual abuse in the country remains to be seen.
Criminologists postulate that there is no direct correlation between gruesome sentences and deterrence. They pontificate that even in countries that enforce capital punishment, murder is still a common problem.
Today, there’s an erroneous belief that if women or girls were cautious in avoiding strangers, they would avoid being raped.
This line of thinking is bereft of realism because strangers are not the major culprits in most rape cases.
The image of the ‘weirdo’ lurking behind the bushes, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting child is not representative of the type of person who molests children today.
Speaking at Mutoko’s Mother of Peace Children’s Home in 2018, the First Lady Dr Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, said most of the perpetrators of rape are close family members who, in most cases, do not face justice because they are being protected by the family.
“From the tours l have made so far, l have realised that rape is rife among minors, with close relatives being the main perpetrators… Rape perpetrators shouldn’t be left scot-free. Guardians are protecting rapists at the expense of abused minors… All rape cases must be reported even if the accused is your neighbour or husband,” the First Lady said.
According to a report from Childline Zimbabwe, an organisation that helps children in distress, 85 to 90 percent of abusers are males known to the victims.
“In most cases, abusers are either friends of the family, family members or someone with authority over the child, such as a parent, teacher or cleric. Only a small percentage of sexual abusers are strangers,” reads the report in part.
It is indeed shocking in the extreme to note that people who are obliged to protect children from abuse and exploitation are turning out to be mindless sexual predators.
It just cannot be over-stated that a parent, guardian, teacher or clergyman who sexually abuses a child is a danger to society and should face the full wrath of the law.
But what makes someone rape a child?
Is the desire for sexual intimacy the sole motivational factor? These are some of the questions boiling in the minds of many people today.
Psychologist Dr Allan Dupont, in his research spanning several years working with suspected and convicted rapists at psychiatric institutions in South Africa, maintains that men rape children for a myriad of reasons.
He said some men rape minors in a vain attempt to enhance their business fortunes after being instructed to do so by some malevolent traditional healers.
“More disturbing is the emerging trend of children being raped by men who are HIV positive. Minors are being mythologised by some morally corrupt traditional healers as a ‘cure’ for HIV/AIDS,” Dr Dupont said.
Claims by sangomas or traditional healers in some African countries, including Zimbabwe, that sex with a minor, a virgin or someone with albinism cures HIV and AIDS are blatant and shameful falsehoods.
Cuthbert Mavheko is a freelance journalist based in Bulawayo. Contact Details- 0773 963 448; Email email@example.com