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Kenia’s story: Fighting sexual violence against children in Madagascar

© UNICEF video
Kenia, 13, lies in a hospital in Diego Suarez, Madagascar. Her illness resulted from a heinous crime four years ago when she was sexually assaulted.

By Sarah Crowe

The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children is a landmark effort to provide a detailed global picture of the nature, extent and causes of such violence and act to prevent it. The final report was presented to the General Assembly on 11 October. Here is the latest in a series of related stories.

DIEGO SUAREZ, Madagascar, 14 December 2006 – Outside the Diego Suarez hospital on the extreme northern tip of Madagascar, a savage wind is blowing off the Indian Ocean. Inside the run-down colonial building, a young girl lies on a drip looking withered and crumbled, the victim of a savage act.

For a long time, Kenia couldn’t speak about what had happened to her. Only recently, threats and desperate pain prompted her to tell her mother and a health worker that she was sodomized by her uncle when she was staying with him in the nearby town of Sambava.

The uncle denies the accusation. Kenia’s parents filed a lawsuit against him, and since then court papers have somehow mysteriously disappeared. Frustrated and angry, the parents don’t know what else to do besides watch their daughter’s life and body wasting away.

‘I am afraid for her’

“She wants to go to school but it’s very hard for her. She couldn’t even sit for long,” said a social worker in the Ministry of Population, Odette Manoro, who has followed Kenia’s case from the beginning. “She’s completely exhausted because she cannot eat like she should. I am not very optimistic about her future now. Psychologically she is very, very weak.”

Ms. Manoro continued: “She does not want to go back to Sambava because she is afraid of the perpetrator. And then she says things like, ‘Maybe I will just enter a convent and become a nun’. This is a terrible case. I am afraid for her.”

Sadly, Kenia is just one of the untold numbers of children who are violated and abused at the hands of the people who they often trust.

Tackling child sexual abuse

To tackle this violence head-on, UNICEF, working with the government and partners, has helped to establish 11 child protection teams throughout Madagascar. The teams consist of judges, doctors, teachers and even children themselves.

The effort has led to double the number of cases being reported to the police in some areas. As part of the outreach initiative, judges are sensitized to deal with scared children, coaxing them to talk and counselling them to heal.

© UNICEF video
Kenia’s mother and father tried to bring their daughter's alleged attacker to justice, but without any success.

Student groups and youth parliamentarians are also organized to act as the eyes and ears of the community. They meet regularly and perform at schools to make sure children know their rights and report abuse to the authorities.

Too often, justice denied

In October, the first-ever regional study of its kind detailed the many factors that have led to high numbers of children being sexually exploited or abused on this giant island, where 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. The findings were part of the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, which showed that millions around the world are being subjected to the worst forms of abuse.

Justice heals, but all too often with children, justice is denied. It pains Kenia’s mother, Joazandry Moravelo, that after all these years they seem no closer to seeing the perpetrator behind bars.

“I am very, very sad. We are struggling to do everything we can for the health of our child while the perpetrator of this rape has never been caught, and has never been punished. It makes me feel sick deep in my heart,” said Ms. Moravelo, who now takes in laundry to help make ends meet in Diego Suarez.

© UNICEF video
A judge talks to an abused child, part of outreach efforts to protect children from sexual violence in Madagascar.

An example for other hidden crimes

With the help of donations, the local government assisted in finding work for Kenia’s parents while they take it in turn to watch over their daughter. After nearly four years of various medical interventions, Kenia was evacuated to the capital, Antananarivo, with support from UNICEF. The hospital in Diego Suarez was not able to do anything more for her.

Doctors are not hopeful that they can repair her completely. But under nutritional surveillance, Kenia has been starting to make small progress.

Kenia’s case is very public now. Her story has appeared in the International Herald Tribune and local newspapers. Her parents hope that by talking about their daughter’s tragedy, they can help set an example for other victims who remain nameless and unknown.




13 December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on the problem of child sexual abuse in Madagascar.
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