By Byron Mutingwende
The Zimbabwe Republic Police has noted with concern the trend whereby some people entrusted to look after children, especially girls, end up abusing them. That was said by Masline Gaipiko, a girl child who is the Junior ZRP Senior Assistant Commissioner on the occasion of the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child at Police General Headquarters in Harare on Tuesday 11 October 2016.
“It is sad to note that some people entrusted to look after children end up abusing them. These include teachers, pastors and fathers; the list is endless,” Gaipiko said.
In Zimbabwe, the magnitude of violence, in particular, sexual abuse against girls is rampant but such abuse and exploitation often goes unreported. The abuse of girls affects their physical, emotional and social development and destroys families and communities.
“Communities in which girls grow up should be places of safety and protection, they must feel secure and go about their business freely. As police, we are working with communities countrywide conscientising them on the need to observe and protect children’s rights,” Gaipiko said.
It has been found out that children are being sexually abused for ritual purposes as some very young girls as young as three months are being abused. Some children are being married off while some are pledged to appease avenging spirits. Gaipiko lamented that some children are waylaid on their way from school or abused at home where they are supposed to feel safe.
The ZRP bemoaned the fact that some adults are offering tokens to lure girls into their beds and blasted the infamous “Booster” area in Epworth where adults are picking young girls for exploitation. The law enforcers pledged to target the area during their patrols and vowed to bring the perpetrators to book. There are community members offering brothels, rooms and spaces for such cruelty to happen to the girls. ZRP said some of the offenders include the rich and powerful but warned them that the long arm of the law would catch up with them.
Child marriage has been identified as a menace to society. As a commitment to end child marriage, Zimbabwe has outlawed marrying anyone who is below 18 years of age. In that vein, no social, religious or cultural excuse is permissible to perpetuate child marriage.
The police encouraged traditional and church leaders to ensure that their followers were educated against some primitive practices that allowed children to be married off. Angela Machonesa, the Communications Manager of Plan International said that if girls were given enough space, encouragement, information and role modelling in line with their evolving capacities, they could contribute to their own protection.
She hailed the ZRP for putting in place such structures as the Victim Friendly Unit at all police stations where cases of abuse can be swiftly dealt with in privacy. Machonesa encouraged the girls and the community t large to make maximum use of such facilities to report any violation of children’s rights.
ZRP National Spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner, Charity Charamba said that she was concerned with the high number of child abuse cases, especially against girls. In 2015, in the period from January to August 2200 cases were recorded but in 2016, 2250 cases of rape have been recorded during the same period.
“The fact that children are mostly raped by people that they know is worrisome. The majority of offenders in progressive order are close relatives, neighbours, strangers, and boyfriends, church mates and herd boys among others,” Charamba said.
Most perpetrators usually threaten their victims with assault or death among other unspecified threats. Others promise victims cash or some goodies such as sweets and chocolates to prevent disclosure. There are rare cases where these threats are fulfilled; children are encouraged to report the abuse.
“Children need awareness and constant supervision so that they do not fall into obvious traps that are destructive like alcohol and drug abuse which they can easily copy from their peers. We have to encourage young girls to exercise self-control and restraint. To have the ability to say no,” Charamba said.
Plan International came up with the initiative to partner with the ZRP to advocate for girls’ rights. It pledged continuous engagement on similar programmes and encouraged other organisations to follow suit.