After telling people she was sexually assaulted by the man she called “uncle,” instead of getting sympathy, she was told to keep her mouth shut.
She was only 10.
“I was in sixth grade when a cousin of my stepfather raped me. I was on my way home from school in the evening when he dragged me to a nearby bush where he raped me,” Barbra Kwalela, now 23, said.
“But when I told my mother about it, she not only scolded me but asked me not to tell anyone for fear that she and myself would be thrown out of my uncle’s house, where we lived.”
Although Barbra says so far she has survived the sexually transmitted diseases she contracted through the assaults — including syphilis and HIV — the trauma still lingers in her mind and still haunts her, over a dozen years later.
Sexual abuse targeting children in the landlocked southern African country of Zambia is steadily rising, Archbishop Tresphore Mpundu, president of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), told journalists on Jan. 23.
According to records at University Teaching Hospital — the main referral hospital in Zambia where medical records are kept — made available to the press by Mpundu, over 150 children between the ages of 8 and 12 are sexually abused on a monthly basis.
“These cases have been reported to the police and followed up. Unfortunately, a greater number [of probably cases] is not known.”
“This is a tragedy and as Catholic bishops, we demand the protection of children,” added Mpundu, an important figure in Zambia, with a population over 85 percent Christian, and over 20 percent Catholic, according to the 2010 census.
Sexual abuse is the worst form of mistreatment a child can undergo, Amos Mwale, executive director of the Lusaka-based Center for Reproductive Health Education (CRHE), said.
“Children suffer at the hands of their perpetrators, and this has a long-lasting physical and psychological impact that violates the inherent dignity and worth of a person.”
According to Mwale, the main causes of child sexual abuse in Zambia include local folk myths that sex with children can cure HIV/AIDS or bring success to business as well as caregivers’ general failure to acknowledge and recognize the rights of children.
Ending pressure on victims
Meanwhile, the Zambia branch of the regional NGO Women in Law in Southern Africa wants not only punitive measures against child rapists but also measures to ensure offenders can never be released on bail.
Maureen Samulela Tresha, the Zambian head for the group, said in a telephone interview that it disturbs her to see a grown man, who chooses to have sex with a child, enjoying freedom he might use to pressure his victim to drop charges.
“To avoid instances where cases are withdrawn from court because the victims are compelled to do so by suspects on bail, we are calling on the government to pass a law that will make child rape a non-bailable offense.”
“The government is obligated under Article 15 of the national Constitution not only to protect the victims but also punish the perpetrators of sexual abuse against children and minors, and this includes laws designed not to protect the perpetrators but to protect the victims,” she added.
Records from the Young Women’s Association (YWCA) in Lusaka shows that about 50 percent of young women in Zambia had their first sexual encounter through rape.
Association Chairwoman Lucy Masiya said in an interview that there is an urgent need for an awareness campaign about sexual abuse among people, including parents and guardians, who she says need to better understand children’s rights.