Low reporting of sexual abuse of teens leave the guilty free

Sunday October 29 2017

Low reporting of sexual abuse of teens has hampered efforts to curb the rampant vice, manifested by cases of unwanted pregnancies.  PHOTO | AFP

Low reporting of sexual abuse of teens has hampered efforts to curb the rampant vice, manifested by cases of unwanted pregnancies. PHOTO | AFP 

By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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Low reporting of sexual abuse of teens has hampered efforts to curb the rampant vice, manifested by cases of unwanted pregnancies.

Law enforcement agencies say many teen pregnancy cases remain unreported, and this not only denies the victims help but also makes it hard to prosecute offenders.

According to official figures, more than 17,000 girls in the 16-19 age bracket, fell victim to early or unwanted pregnancies in 2016.

Speaking at a discussion on gender-based violence prevention and response last week, Agnes Muhongerwa, the head of the gender-based violence unit at National Public Prosecution Authority, expressed concern that only a few victims or their families came out to report cases related to defilement and rape.

The national prosecution office says only 813 defilement and rape cases were reported during the first quarter of 2017/18 of which 310 were prosecuted while 125 are pending.

Ms Muhongerwa attributed the low reporting to the communal attitudes, where sex is seen as a private matter and the perception of sexual offences as a social rather than criminal matter that is often settled at the family level.

“If a legally married partner cannot testify on their experience publicly on what happened during their encounter, you can imagine how difficult it is for a victim to open up about her situation. We face a serious challenge of silence,” she said.

With low reporting making it difficult to have a clear picture of the gender-based crimes situation on ground, local rights groups say the rise in teen pregnancies is the only clear indicator of under-reporting.

Apart from a few random statistics of individual districts and by NGOs, no nationwide survey has been conducted.

Figures compiled during the on-going Integrated Campaign on Governance and Family Promotion in which the International Day of the Girl Child celebration was incorporated, suggest the issue constitutes one of the most pressing challenges facing the welfare of families.

Officials from Kirehe District, where the five-week drive was launched on October 11, said the district had recorded 994 cases of teen pregnancies between July 2016 and June 2017.

District Mayor Gerald Muzungu said of these, 973 were girls aged between 16 and 19 while 21 cases involved girls below 15 years.

Figures from Gicumbi district over the same period indicate 656 teen pregnancy cases, a factor that was cited as having contributed to the rise in school dropout numbers which stood at 6,160 that year.

While Gicumbi and Kirehe may not represent the national picture, they are consistent with the results of a rapid assessment on early and unwanted pregnancy by Cladho, a local human rights umbrella organisation.

According to Cladho’s report for 2016, more than 818 girls below 18 years had been impregnated in the 10 districts surveyed.

The report showed most teens were impregnated by their peers, family friends, neighbours or teachers, but only just one out of a hundred reported the perpetrators.

Talking to Rwanda Today, executive secretary of Cladho, Emmanuel Safari, said though the rate of teen pregnancy remains high, and efforts to tackle it properly are partly hampered by the fact that the true status of the vice and data have not been documented on a large scale.

“We expect the government to carry out a research since they have the capacity to do so. But more specifically, there is a need to ensure that action is taken in such situations, and we are seeing progress where districts started looking at it as a serious issue, when before everyone was silent about it,” he said.

Mr Safari said in some instances parents and perpetrators were sorting issues amicably while culprits had escaped or provided some financial assistance in such a way that rights of the mother and the baby were not guaranteed.