Traditionally low status of girls fueling child sexual abuse in sub-Saharan Africa

The problem of child sexual abuse in sub-Saharan Africa remains "stubbornly resistant to change" in part because of the traditionally low status of girls, a "lingering view" that sexual abuse should be dealt with privately and justice systems that "constitute obstacle courses" for women, some child advocates have said, the New York Times reports.

Data show that the number of abuse cases is increasing in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa and other African countries, according to the Times.

In South Africa, police reported more than 22,000 cases of child rape between April 2004 and March 2005.

"The prevalence of child rape in South Africa goes from really, really high to astronomically high," Rachel Jewkes, a specialist on sexual violence with South Africa's Medical Research Council, said, adding, "If I had to put my finger on one overriding issue, it would be gender inequality."

Researchers say that poverty, a history of violence and oppression in society, and cultural traditions freeing child sex offenders from punishment also contribute to high child sex abuse rates.

Madagascar is "making headway" in curbing child sex abuse but still has a higher rate than South Africa, the Times reports.

UNICEF in 2000 set up 11 child-protection teams of physicians, educators and judges in Madagascar to assist survivors and inform the public about sex abuse.

Medical and legal officials in the country say most families do not press charges and follow a tradition of accepting payments from the alleged perpetrators, according to the Times.

Families who do press charges in Madagascar must provide $15 to cover medical exams and other investigation costs, and children as young as age five are expected to confront the person accused of abuse face-to-face.

"These crimes are still treated as the fault or the problem of the victim," Pamela Shifman, a child protection specialist for UNICEF, said (LaFraniere, New York Times, 12/1).


Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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