Sexual violence against children: Are girls in Mozambique little angels or sex objects?

michael_addaneyAuthor: Michael Addaney
Student (MPhil Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa), Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Global statistics indicate that child sexual abuse is increasing with an estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys under the age of 18 having experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual abuse. According to the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Commission, one out of three girls in Sub-Saharan African experiences some form of sexual violence before the age of 18. In Mozambique alone, 33% of children between 12 and 15 years have been victims of sexual violence, one of the highest rates in the world.

Also, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) observes that child prostitution is a growing concern in Mozambique. The Mozambican Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Affairs links the increased sexual violence with the country’s failure in the realisation of the child’s right to education with an estimated 36% of girls aged between 13 and 18 years married instead of being in school.

This situation is also attributed to the Mozambican civil war which weakened institutions particularly those protecting the rights and welfare of children. Despite major sector-specific strategic frameworks to combat sexual violence against children, these are often done with little consultation and coordination. This has had a deleterious effect on the enforcement of children’s rights through the existing legal and institutional arrangements.

Meanwhile, Mozambique is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and all the relevant international human rights instruments. The domestic framework for addressing sexual violence against children includes the Children’s Act of 2008 and Juvenile Justice Act of 2008 which translate the CRC and the ACRWC into national child rights legislation.

In Mozambique alone 33pc of children between 12 and 15 years have been victims of sexual one of the highest rates in the world

These provide major steps towards the creation of comprehensive legal and policy framework for the protection of children. The Domestic Violence Act of 2009 further makes sexual violence a crime and calls for increased penalties for offenders as well as places an obligation on the government to assist victims through provision of services such as medical treatment.

Furthermore, article 121 of the Constitution affords children the right to protection from the family, society and the State. In addition, Section 6 of the Children’s Act provides that no child shall be subjected to violent and cruel treatment.

Recognising the systemic nature of sexual violence against children, the government has set up the Children’s Court. It has integrated child’s welfare into the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Affairs as well as creating specialised women and children’s unit within the Ministry of Interior.

Despite the efforts of the Ministries of Justice and Interior to combat sexual violence, the capacity of these institutions and the attitudes of the officers continue to prevent victims from accessing the legal system for judicial remedy resulting in the imposition of lesser punishment on the perpetrators when cases make it to court. The Police Service, the first port of call for victims of sexual violence, is woefully under-resourced thus impeding speedy investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. This leads to acquittals and in some cases, lesser sentences.

During a recent field survey (April 2015) in Maputo, a Senior Official at the Ministry of Justice in Maputo admitted that there is more to be done to accelerate the progress made by the ministries, agencies and departments charged with the responsibility to address sexual violence against children. A Senior State Prosecutor also revealed that the capacity and the attitudes of law enforcement agencies discourage victims from accessing the legal system and when they do, leads to the imposition of lesser punishment.

In Mozambique, the girl has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she has been abused before investigation is initiated to gather facts for prosecution. A women’s human rights advocate also observed that ‘the state not only harbours rapists, but also completely disregards, ignores, and fails women’. This observation supports the report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona during her visit to Mozambique in 2013 when she emphasised that‘the lack of implementation of legislation and policies and the lingering risk of corruption all pose potential threats to stability and realisation of human rights in Mozambique’.

Mozambique has a deeply embedded patriarchal sociocultural order which, coupled with the lack of implementation of laws and policies at the institutional level hinders significant and measurable progress towards addressing sexual violence against girls.

This apparent systematic institutional failure to impose any meaningful criminal sanction for offenses reinforces the notion that crimes committed against children are less serious than crimes committed against others. This is not only unconstitutional but also anti-human rights. While provisions impacting on violence against children exist in the national framework, the problems are often the lack of harmonisation, poor policy coherence and implementation.

To respond to this, NGOs and the general public must put pressure on the government to comply with international human rights obligations. There needs to be in-depth research to inform evidence-based legislation that deals with the underlying causes of child marriages and child prostitution.

Additionally, law enforcement agencies and other relevant institutions must be truly independent and the government must also invest financial resources into these institutions to strengthen their human resource and logistical base to fulfil their constitutional mandates.

Finally, the institutional apparatus should focus on national awareness campaigns to educate people especially children on their rights and the remedies available to them in case of violation of such rights. The government must also develop victim support programme to provide post-trauma counselling.

In addition, Child Assault Units should be established within government health facilities to provide free medical services to victims of sexual violence to expedite prosecution of perpetrators.

To conclude, it must be admitted that sexual violence against children is a complex problem with many underlying causes and unfortunately has no simple solution than the concerted efforts of all to end it now!

About the Author: Michael Addaney holds BSc Development Planning and Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the University of Cape Coast respectively, both in Ghana. Michael is a Corporate Member of the Ghana Institute of Planners (Social Policy option) and a candidate of MPhil in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria in South Africa. His research interest focuses on International Humanitarian Law, Conflict Transformation and Security Studies, Public Policy Analysis and Child Rights.


One Comment on “Sexual violence against children: Are girls in Mozambique little angels or sex objects?”

  1. Free Mind says:

    Reblogged this on FREE MIND and commented:
    #PopularChildhoodRumors #DayofTheAfricanChild I rarely judge and won’t judge today.. . Let the world have this part.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s