Lesotho’s vulnerable girls become sexual abuse targets
Thakane can hardly play with other girls her age without worrying about her pad. Although she is only eight years old and has not reached puberty, she has to wear a sanitary pad every day because her neighbours raped her. The abuse left her with a continual bleeding that has not yet been repaired.
The Child Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service in Quthing have raised their concern over an increase in child-to-child rape. They operate with UNICEF’s assistance dealing specifically with cases of abuse, violence and exploitation of children and women.
Several months after the incident, Thakane relives the pain and trauma of being gang-raped by her male neighbours, 14, 8 and 7 years old. “This case is traumatizing even to us Police. We tried to give the girl emotional healing, but the daily sight of blood is a constant reminder of what happened to her,” says CGPU police woman Mamaki Monongoaha.
“Thakane has been through a lot. At first, she did not talk nor play. I tried all play therapy skills I had learned without success,” says Monongoaha who was trained in play therapy with the support of UNICEF. “She started playing in the third session, but each time a male police officer walked into the room, she would stop playing. I had a difficult time in bringing her to accept my male colleagues and to talk. After the eighth session, she was a happy girl.”
Thakane is one of the 10 girls in Quthing who are reported to have been molested by their friends since January. “Many of the girls molested in the district are vulnerable. Neighbours are becoming uneasy when their children go out to play,” adds Monongoaha.
Quthing District’s Administrator Mapitso Panyane created the District Child Protection Task Team as a way of addressing child-related problems in her area. The team is made up of government ministries that consult each other from time to time on child issues. “Child-to-child rape is a very scary problem. In a country like Lesotho, when a child rapes and harms another child the way Thakane was harmed, that calls for a serious look at things. It is not fair that children can no longer be safe with their own friends. Someone somewhere is doing something wrong and, believe me, the impact is remarkable,” notes Panyane. Her feelings are shared by the other members of the District Child Protection Task Team. However, to improve their work they need more support and more information on their role.
National statistics indicate that, between January and May 2006, as many as 777 women and girls had reported being raped. This number is alarming in an area where the HIV prevalence among young adults is raging at 23.2 per cent.
While UNICEF and its partners are working round the clock to put in place structures to help reduce the trauma of abuse, rapists are growing younger.
CGPU activities are being complemented by medical practitioners trained in care and management of rape survivors and by social workers and probation officers. In 2007, the roll-out of the life skills curriculum by the Ministry of Education and Training will equip children with skills and knowledge to protect themselves and better cope with risky situations.
The introduction of ‘child-friendly schools’ will foster a secure and healthy learning environment, while the (re)training of youth development officers and NGOs in existing and new skills is a way to filling referral gaps.
© UNICEF Lesotho/2006