Across the world, staggering numbers of children – some as young as a few months old – are experiencing violence in varied forms, often by those entrusted to take care of them. While girls are predominantly the victims of sexual abuse, there are several cases of boys being sexually and physically abused as well. The figures in relation to this level of abuse are shocking, and it is quite clear that Governments and international partners need to keep the issue on the front burner, where it is always treated as a matter of serious concern.
In Guyana, there is believed to be a high incidence of physical and sexual abuse of children. The Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) had detailed several cases of child sexual and physical abuse for 2018, with reports indicating the figure might not represent the complete extent of the problem, since the crime is a hidden one, which goes unreported in many instances.
Just a few days ago, this newspaper carried a story which provided some harrowing details about the level of abuse some of our children experienced and the difficulties they have in bringing their lives back to normalcy after experiencing such abuse. The story we published was based on a recent study conducted by ChildLink, a Non-Governmental Organisation which works towards the protection of children against abuse and exploitation. In this specific research, it was reported that 338 victims were screened, and at least four were discovered to have ruptured uteruses, among other health implications.
The report said that many of the children had to be hospitalised as a result of the extent of the abuse, while some even required surgery for their injuries. Further, the research found that some children became pregnant while others contracted HIV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
When it comes to other effects of child sexual abuse, ChildLink found that victims complained more of being sad, getting angry easily, feeling bad, thinking about the abuse “all the time,” crying a lot, feeling down or depressed, and “spacing out a lot.” Victims even reported that they are affected by nightmares, problems with sleeping or eating, flashbacks, numbness, irrational fears, incessant crying, and suicidal feelings, including significant suicide attempts. Important to note is that those victims also encounter difficulties in school, as they were usually unable to focus.
The report also pointed out that child sexual abuse could result in transmission of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other STIs, including the virus that causes cervical cancer. If left untreated, some of these infections will lead to infertility, and even death. A person who is abused in childhood and does not receive adequate medical attention, including STI screening, is at risk of suffering irreparable harm and innocently transmitting infections to others.
To end violence against children, UNICEF had made quite a few recommendations, which, if taken seriously, could go a far way in protecting our children. Among the recommendations are; i) Adopting well-coordinated national action plans to end violence against children – incorporating education, social welfare, justice and health systems, as well as communities and children themselves. ii) Changing behaviours of adults and addressing factors that contribute to violence against children, including economic and social inequities, social and cultural norms that condone violence, inadequate policies and legislation, insufficient services for victims, and limited investments in effective systems to prevent and respond to violence. iii) Focusing national policies on minimising violent behaviour, reducing inequalities, and limiting access to firearms and other weapons. iv) Building social service systems and training social workers to provide referrals, counselling and therapeutic services for children who have experienced violence. v) Educating children, parents, teachers, and community members to recognise violence in all its many forms, and empowering them to speak out and report violence safely. vi) Collecting better disaggregated data on violence against children, and tracking progress through robust monitoring and evaluation.
Children, irrespective of their ethnic, religious, cultural or social backgrounds, deserve to grow up in an environment where they feel safe and are part of loving and nurturing families. The findings of the ChildLink study should serve as a wakeup call for stakeholders here: that the issue regarding the protection of children against physical and sexual abuse should be treated seriously.