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UNICEF “shocked and outraged” at latest case of child rape in Zimbabwe

HARARE, 1 August 2006 - UNICEF today said it “condemned in the strongest possible terms” news of more horrific sexual child abuse cases in Zimbabwe.

Responding to Monday’s report in The Herald that a Ruya high school teacher raped and infected with HIV a six-year-old girl, UNICEF said the case should shock each and every Zimbabwean into action.

The newspaper reported that the magistrate presiding over the case, who sentenced the teacher to 17 years jail, “made it clear that [the rapist] raped the girl hoping to heal his sexually transmitted diseases.”

UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Festo Kavishe said, “It is sickening to hear that in 2006 we still have cases where people believe their sexually transmitted diseases can be ‘cured’ by having sex with [in this case raping] a virgin. This is the most repulsive of myths. It needs to be exposed by every community in every corner of the country.”

In two additional cases, also reported in Monday’s Herald, a 22-year-old man has been charged with raping his seven-year-old twin sisters, while a 76-year-old man has been charged with sexual assault after he allegedly abused an 11-year-old girl.

“Much more needs to be done to combat child abuse in Zimbabwe,” said Kavishe, “and importantly to educate Zimbabweans on HIV and all sexually transmitted diseases, and on the long-term psychological impact of rape on children.”

Earlier this year UNICEF again expressed its horror at the continued sexual abuse of children in Zimbabwe, most of them primary school pupils, by those in trusted positions. It noted that anecdotal evidence from local NGOs and clinics around Harare show child sexual abuse is rampant. Last year alone, a local NGO recorded 4,146 cases of sexual abuse against children in its area of operation alone.

“This means 11 children were sexually abused every day of last year,” said Kavishe, “and these are only the cases reported. This should be a cause for national outrage and every citizen must make it their duty to stamp out this evil afflicting Zimbabwe’s children.”

UNICEF, in partnership with Government ministries and several NGOs, supports a national campaign on ‘Zero Tolerance Against Child Abuse’. As part of the campaign, UNICEF supports training workshops and community-based education. Participants include government officials, NGOs, journalists, police and teachers. UNICEF says it is currently stepping up its work with communities, seeking to further educate them to spot the signs of child abuse and to tenaciously protect their children by establishing and supporting functional child protection committees, where children themselves are represented.

“At a time when Zimbabweans are making phenomenal efforts to absorb 1.6million orphans, there is a small – but growing – number of people who prey on the most vulnerable of children,” said Kavishe. “These children suffer in silence, let down by people and systems meant to protect them. Unseen and unheard, they bear the physical and emotional scars of lives shattered and dreams lost, a permanent reminder of society’s failure to offer them a safe environment in which to grow up and thrive.” 

UNICEF believes it remains necessary in Zimbabwe to create a culture of prevention of all forms of child abuse, to mobilise public opinion and action, galvanize government, civil society, chiefs and communities, parents and guardians and children themselves to be unequivocal in their condemnation of child abuse, and step up work to disseminate prevention programs.

Community leaders must play a central role. Fears of reprisal and families’ willingness to reach settlements deepen a culture of silence and enable the problem to fester undetected and unreported.

“If perpetrators are going to be stopped, if children are going to have the confidence to speak out against these evils, then authority figures need to make it patently clear that child abuse in their communities will not be stomached,” said Kavishe. “Silence on this issue shelters the perpetrators and is a crime.”

For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:
James Elder, Communication Officer, UNICEF Zimbabwe, Tel +263 (0)91 276120, jelder@unicef.org




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