Introduction and Background
In traditional African society, child sexual abuse was unheard of. It may, however, have been happening but the society at large had created a system where children were protected through many avenues, ranging from stringent taboos centered on relationships and living arrangements.
However, this is not the case today and the society has been invaded with all sorts of challenges. These challenges include broken families, unemployment, overcrowding, abject poverty, pornography, HIV/AIDS with its accompanied miseries, state of norm, drug and alcohol abuse, conflicts and civil strife, exploitation of information technologies, among others.
In traditional societies, parents were not only the primary socializing agents for children, but they were totally accountable when there was an indication that children were not being protected. With time, the parents have abdicated their responsibilities to friends, teachers, religious groups and in some cases, to individuals they know very little about. Parents send children for errands at night or to strangers, oblivious of what can happen. The few studies that are emerging indicate that some of these parents even sell their children into prostitution for economic gain.
Based on the above, the African Network for the Prevention and Protection of Children Against Neglect (ANPPCAN) in September 2007 organized and held the First International Conference in Africa on Child Sexual Abuse in Kenya. This conference brought together delegates from Africa and the rest of the world to deliberate on the several sub-themes on child sexual abuse including existing knowledge on child sexual abuse, prevention of child sexual abuse, different forms of child sexual abuse, international experiences in treatment, prevention and interventions, role of policy and legislation in the fight against child sexual abuse and the role of the media in the fight against child sexual abuse. Discussions also touched on the best practices in the treatment of child sexual abuse, trafficking and sexual violence against children, how to form partnerships in the fight against child abuse and the role the community can play in the fight against child sexual abuse.
During the conference several observations were made. These included:
1. That, globally, 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence involving physical contact.
1. Of all reported forms of child abuse in Africa a significant number have been sexual abuse cases.
2. Somewhere in Africa, 45% of children diagnosed as having been abused had been sexually abused.
3. In a certain community in Eastern Africa, 49% of sexually active primary school girls had been coerced into having sex.
4. Yet even these statistics represent a great under-estimation given the gross under-reporting and the ever changing nature of child sexual abuse.
The most striking thing is that five years after the Pineiro report on violence against children and the United Nations Secretary Generals Study on Violence Against Children child sexual abuse has remained almost a normal occurrence, with hardly any systems in place in many African countries to respond to the vice. . Children continue to be abused sexually in total silence. Because of lack of child protection systems, cases of abuse are handled in an ad-hoc sporadic and most uncoordinated manner. Many times, the process of receiving and handling cases of abuse is abusive and re-traumatizes children and their families. This is due to many factors including lack of capacity in those mandated to handle cases of child abuse.
Sexual violence and abuse occur in many different forms and may happen anywhere: at home, in school, at work, in the community, institutional care, vocational training centers as well as in cyberspace. In many countries in Africa, information technology is advancing and is putting large numbers of children at risk, as there is ample pornography in the internet. Children with computers and mobile phones, cannot only access pornographic sites with ease, but they are being lured through this technology into sexual exploitation.
Studies show that girls experience higher rates of sexual violence than boys; although in the recent past the number of boys is increasing. This reinforces male dominance and impedes female empowerment. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report, 2011, evidence from 11 developing countries show a broad spread of experience of sexual or physical violence against females aged 15–19, reaching a height of 65 per cent in Uganda. The widespread acceptance of sexual violence as a normal feature of life, particularly by children, is a grave cause for concern.
Sexual abuse of children is an extreme form of gender based violence that reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls and harmful traditional practices. Any one of these abuses lead to deep psychological scars, damage the health of women and girls in general, including their reproductive and sexual health and in some instances, results in death.
In regard to policies, many countries in Africa cannot claim any credit as they hardly exist. Attempts, on the other hand, have been made by some countries to put laws in place. But the outcry from the few studies that have been done, as well as, those practitioners in child protection, indicate that implementation of the same is a challenge. The reality is that by and large policies and laws relating to children are not implemented in many countries in Africa, posing problems in child protection efforts.
The impact of sexual abuse on children is devastating and requires skilled manpower to respond appropriately so as to yield results to the victim. This is a huge omission in Africa where the children who have been extremely violated end up with unskilled service providers who have no knowledge of sexual abuse and its impact. This is double tragedy to sexually abused children in the continent. One hears of cases where perpetrators negotiate out of court settlements with parents of the victims, leaving the victims with no recourse. In some cases the legislative systems are so defective that they favour the perpetrators than the victims. Yet in some cases, services responding to sexual abuse cases are highly centralized and difficult to access given the distances involved.
The First Sexual Abuse Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 drew up several recommendations that touched on the types and modes of interventions, the need for coherence between research, policy and practice, empowering of children, fostering links with the media, domestication of relevant instruments, and enactment of appropriate legislations, enforcement of regulatory provisions governing child care institutions, support to families to protect their children among others.
Relevance of the Conference on Child Sexual Abuse
It is now almost four years since the First International Conference in Africa on Child Sexual Abuse was held in Nairobi in September 2007. Yet sexual abuse of children has continued unabated. It is for this reason that the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) Regional Office through the African Movement for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (AMPCAN) in Accra Ghana decided to organize the Second International Conference in Africa on Child Sexual Abuse as a follow up to the first conference to review the progress made towards improving the situation of children who are at risk of sexual abuse or have already been abuse.
The Conference aims at offering an opportunity for stakeholders to reflect on what has been done in the various African countries on sexual abuse of children since the first conference and also deliberate and share on the necessary protective mechanisms and safe nets available against sexual abuse of children. It also aims at using the opportunity to mobilize and remind governments, communities and civil society organizations and others on their responsibility to protect children against Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as well as of the need to accelerate efforts towards protecting children from sexual abuse. It will in addition bring together actors, stakeholders, researchers, practitioners, child activists, the media, policy makers and donors from all over the world to share and learn from each other on sexual abuse of children and young women.
 World Report on Violence against Children, 2006