How to tackle child sexual abuse

Sunday May 19 2019


By Gadiosa Lamtey

Last month our sister paper, Mwananchi, carried a story of a man in Geita District, who allegedly raped his four-year-old daughter.

His wife had left their matrimonial home following a family dispute, leaving the children behind.

She believed her husband had raped their child given his past behaviour. Whenever her husband returned home at night, he would be drunk and always wanted to sleep next to their child with whom they shared their bed.

She also cited an incident where her husband beat her after confronting him when he tried to sleep next to her younger sister on the couch in their living room.

This is just an example of many similar cases where fathers sexually abuse their own children. An internet search for information about fathers abusing their children sexually yields a long list. It seems this is something that happens quite often.

Tanzania Human Rights Report 2018 titled Sexual Violence: A threat to Child Rights& Welfare in Tanzania proves so. The report published by Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and Zanzibar Legal Services Centre, released this week highlights that sexual violence against children, particularly in the forms of rape and sodomy was a major human rights concern in 2018.


According to the report, child rape incidents that were reported that year increased from 759 incidents in the first six months of 2017 to 2,365 in the period between January and June, 2018. Sexual violence was also mentioned as one of the major violation of children’s rights in all the 20 districts in 10 regions that LHRC visited in 2018.”

LHRC’s media survey revealed that 91 per cent of reported violence against children incidents were of sexual violence while 9 per cent were physical and psychological.

The report cites close relatives, neighbours, boda boda drivers and teachers among the perpetrators.

Lack of proper care and parental guidance, family disintegration whereby mothers leave the children in the care of fathers and vice versa as well as drunkenness among men are among contributing factors, according to the report.

Salma Abdallah, a resident of Sinza and a mother of three agrees with the report findings that perpetrators of child sexual abuse are usually the people that we live with. People that children know and trust as family.

“We unfortunately never suspect them or think they could harm our children because they are our brothers, sisters, uncles and fathers. On the contrary some of these turn out to be our worst enemies. I’m sorry to say this but just don’t trust anyone,” says Salma.

The mother of two girls aged 17 and 12 and an eight-year-old boy who lives in a three-bedroom house says she does not entertain visitors, especially those who overstay their welcome.

She is not ashamed of making a guest sleep in the living room or even in the corridor. For her, it’s better to be blamed for that provided her children are safe. She knows what unsuspected relatives and visitors can do to innocent children and does not want that to happen to her children.

She learnt a lesson after an incident that happened to her sister’s daughter. One of her sister’s husband’s relative was staying at her sister’s house as he searched for a job after graduation. Salma’s brother in-law had asked him to be helping his daughter with Mathematics during his stay.

One day as he was teaching her, he attempted touching her breast, which she reported to her mother. The relative was sent packing the following day.

This and so many other incidents that Salma has heard and seen have taught her never to trust anyone with her children.

Cecilia Mushi, a resident of Mbezi Louis who is also a mother of three children shares the same sentiments. She too does not subscribe to the idea of having guests share a room with the children.

Cecilia says this is a big mistake that many parents are making.

“We tend to trust people simply because they are our friends or relatives, which is very wrong. Unfortunately, we never find out what they do to our children since they threaten to kill them if they ever told us. Sometimes we find out when it’s too late,” she notes.

Cecilia says many children get sexually abused and suffer silently because they don’t feel safe confiding in their parents. She says some parents act very hostile towards their children, which makes them fear to report abuse or share their concerns with them.

She says parents should find ways to make children trust them and make them feel free to talk to them about what is happening in their lives.

“We need to make time for our children, know what they do when we are not at home, know who their friends are. Let them tell you their fears and concerns and assure them that you are always there for them. Unfortunately, many parents today are busy with work and don’t bother finding out what is happening in their children’s life,” says Cecilia.

A nursery school teacher, Ave-Maria Shija, thinks child sexual abuse is a result of lack of fear of God. She blames parents who don’t have time for their children but spend hours swiping through their phones and posting on social media.

“Parents should stop being busy with their phones. They should monitor their children’s behaviour and progress in school, make sure they do their homework and get to know their children better. Some parents are assigning this responsibility to house helps and other family members,” says Ave-Maria.

Dr William Manyama, head of Social Work Department at the Institute of Social Work thinks acts of child maltreatment we are witnessing today are a result of the fact that some people are overwhelmed by life stress.

Dr Manyama says while some people sexually abuse children for witchcraft reasons, some do so to relieve stress. He says some people do so out of selfishness and lack of compassion and are therefore ready to destroy the future of children by abusing them sexually.

A sociologist, Dr Abu Mvungi stresses on the need to strengthen the marriage institution for stable families. The family, Dr Mvungi says, is the primary foundation to a child’s safe upbringing. He says when the family becomes unstable, the result is the occurrence of incidents such as sexual abuse.

Dr Mvungi says child protection is dependent on parents. When a marriage breaks children are raised by other people who end up mistreating the children and sometimes subjecting them to brutal acts such as rape and sodomy.

“This culture that we have adopted of making children call everyone uncle and aunt contributes to child sexual abuse. In our culture uncle and aunt used to be people who were much respected. People who could be trusted with and by our children but nowadays everyone is given that title,” he says.

A Kinondoni resident Renatus Mtweve says when parents separate, some men who insist on staying with the children send them to their grandparents. As a result, they risk getting abused sexually due to lack of proper care.

Renatus recalls how an uncle tried to rape his aunt’s daughter in 2014, something that shocked everyone in the family.

To prevent such from happening, Dr Mvungi says the community needs to be sensitized on the importance of having stable families for proper upbringing and children’s safety.