Comoros

Comoros: Breaking the silence about child abuse

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Comoros
Young girls study in a Koranic school. Many parents cannot afford to pay for their children’s education, so they send them to Koranic schools, which are free.

By Marlies Lensink

MUTSAMUDU, Comoros, 2 December 2005 – ‘Young raped girl dies after her delivery’ read the headline of an article in the weekly Comorian newspaper ‘Kashkazi’. The article told the story of an 11-year-old girl who had been raped by her teacher at a Koranic school, became pregnant and died soon after giving birth. UNICEF Comoros conducted an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the young girl’s death.

The story of Amina

Amina Isiaka was like any other girl from Mutsamudu, the capital of Anjouan, one of the small Indian Ocean islands that form the Comoros archipelago. She came from a family of ten children and attended primary school. 

Sitting in front of her family’s small hut, Amina’s mother recounts her daughter’s ordeal. The young girl had just seen a film outdoors. “When the children were leaving, Amina was called inside a building by a Koranic teacher who lives in the neighbourhood. He told her that her father was on the phone.”

A neighbour witnessed the girl entering the hut and warned the mother about the incident. Ashamed, Amina first refused to say what had happened to her that evening. Eventually she confessed she had been raped by the 45-year-old foundi, as Koranic teachers in the Comoros are known. Amina became pregnant and for seven months tried to hide her pregnancy.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Comoros
UNICEF Comoros has been active in the following areas: child protection, HIV/AIDS, malaria among pregnant women and children, girls’ education and integrated young child development.

Child abuse in the Comoros islands: Facts and figures

Child abuse is a widespread problem in the Comoros islands. In 2002 UNICEF financed three studies covering the islands of Grand Comoros, Anjouan and Moheli, to evaluate child protection issues at country level between1998 and 2002. Besides being exposed to physical and psychological violence, the report showed an alarming number of children had been sexually abused. The majority of cases took place at home, involving (close) family members. The average age of the victims was 13.

On the island of Moheli, the union’s smallest island which counts 13,000 inhabitants,142 victims were interviewed. More than half of the interviewed children aged between 14 and 16 had been victims of sexual assault. Six per cent of the victims under 13 had been raped.

According to Fatima Bacar, director of ‘La Cellule d’Écoute’, a UNICEF-supported centre that provides psychosocial support and care to child victims of abuse and violence, at least 20 young children from the small island of Anjouan were raped this year, a number of them by their Koranic teachers.

Child abuse is a taboo subject in Comorian society, and many families do not report incidents. A common practice is for the parents of a victim to work out an ‘agreement’ with the offender’s family. In the case of Amina the offender promised to pay Amina 225,000 FC (about $550), take care of the girl during the pregnancy, and marry her after delivery.
 
Breaking the silence on child abuse

Because of her very young age Amina had been advised to deliver her child in hospital. After a difficult delivery, she eventually gave birth to a boy, but died the following day. Her newborn son died within three weeks.
 
Amina’s family has not received any compensation from the offender. They will probably never take legal action against him. This, says Fatima Bacar, is not unusual in these types of cases: “this is a clear demonstration of power abuse.“ 

In partnership with civil society organizations like the Comorian Foundation for Human Rights, UNICEF Comoros is striving to attract government’s attention on the issue and create a more protective environment for children.
 
For privacy reasons ‘Amina’ is not the real name of the young girl.

Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.


 

 

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