Defilement: The cost of ‘looking the other way’

Last month, prosecution revealed that it received 3,363 child defilement cases in the fiscal year 2018/2019. These cases rose from 2000 in the previous year.

Upon conviction, a person who commits child defilement is liable to imprisonment for a period of not less than 20 years and not more than 25 years, if the victim is 14 years or older.

 

But despite the heavy punishments and a number of other strategies in place to curb defilement, defilement cases are still on the rise.

 

Whereas sexual violence may not be completely understood and explained by a single factor; culture is one of the many factors that have been pointed out as one of the obstacles posing a great challenge in fighting this iniquity. And with it comes the issue of lack of evidence and a tendency of some families concealing child defilement for fear of humiliation.

 

Aline Providence Nkundibiza, a gender specialist and the chairperson of Rwanda Women In/And Mining Organisation, explains that child defilement is considered as a shame to the family because of the mind-set and fear of judgement from society.

She points out that some families tend to think that if people learn about what happened to the child, they will be considered ‘careless’ and would, hence, blame themselves for the misfortune.

She says this is also very much connected to culture because years ago (still the case in some instances), once a girl was not a virgin anymore, it was hard for her to find a husband. Families, hence, had to hide it in order to protect the future of their daughter.

The other factor she highlights is the possibility of corruption in some cases, where parents or other family members are paid off not to testify.

“Meaning that poverty may also be another challenge fuelling cases of child defilement. Another challenge may be ignorance, because if one is to observe,  in some cases the law dissemination was not done enough to all people, so some do not know where to report and how,” she says.

Nkundibiza emphasises, however, that the proper role of family in this case is very important, encouraging them to fear the repercussions (physical and emotional effects) of this rather than minding what other people will say.

“Families should endeavour to educate children, there should be a strong relationship and friendship between parents and children so that the child is informed on how to behave and if anything happens, she/he will find it easy to open up. This leads me to another factor of fear that in most cases prevents victims from being open to share what happened,” she says.

And with this, the gender specialist considers the need for sensitisation if defilement and other forms of sexual violence are to be prevented.

“Focus should also be on the enforcement of laws, having Isange One Stop Centres close in communities and also, working with all stakeholders like Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, National Police, Transparency International, and Ministry of Justice among others.”

Irene Mizero, a youth activist and founder of Mizero Care Organisation, says the ministry in charge of family and other relevant institutions should work together to sensitise on laws related to child defilement and the preservation of evidence against defilement case.

Net illustration. 

He also says that there should be a clear dialogue between educators, parents and students about sexual reproductive health.

“Youth should be taught to say no to things that can destroy their future. This is why comprehensive sexual education is really needed,” he says.

He encourages families to break certain barriers leaned against culture by first of all taking into consideration the adverse effects this can have on their children.

“The consequences of defilement are deep and go beyond humiliation. Children and their parents have to take the lead in reporting these cases and laws have to be applied. This, however, calls for a change of mind-set,” the activist adds.

Laws need to be adjusted

Parentsare advised to be careful with the people they surround their kids with. /    Net photos 

Mizero believes that penalty for defilement should be increased if possible, for this will scare perpetrators from committing such crimes.

Gender activist Ange Ashimwe says that other than having victims present evidence for crimes committed against them, perpetrators should also be required to have evidence that acquits them.

“It is time for people accused of rape/defilement to prove themselves wrong too because we ask for evidence from victims as if it was something they knew was going to happen and filmed the scenario. Yes, shreds of evidence are needed, but laws have to be adjusted in a way that they are sensitive to these cases,” Ashimwe says.

She adds that the Government has to establish very stringent measures regarding punishment for both the perpetrators and those concealing such acts against the innocent child who doesn’t even know what defilement is.

Ashimwe also notes that victims still face challenges when it comes to seeking justice.

“They face challenges like long procedures of court, corruption — especially when it involves someone with a higher status — poverty, cultural barriers, among others. Laws have to be adjusted in a way that considers all of these factors,” she says.

She also explains the factor of families concealing such acts, saying that parents not to report cases of child defilement in fear of humiliation shouldn’t be the case if the cycle is to be broken.

“I understand it is difficult, parents are going through a lot of pain and a lot of trauma because of what happened. But they have to report these cases because when they don’t, there is a higher chance of their children or other kids facing defilement again and again. Child defilement has become normal in churches, schools because we are not talking about it or reporting these cases,” she says.

The consequences of defilement are deep and go beyond humiliation. 

With this, Ashimwe advises parents to be careful with the people they surround their kids with.

“Parents often over trust people like teachers, pastors, elders, yet they are the ones who mostly end up assaulting these kids. They also have to make their children feel at ease with them such that in case of anything, children should be in position to speak up and not be afraid of their parents. They also have to listen to their kids and report these cases as soon as they find out.”

dmbabazi@newtimesrwanda.com

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