Boy child suffers in silence

Organisations like that which support and protect girl children have done a splendid job in exposing, helping and minimising the abuse of minors.

But in recent years the boy child has been neglected – and many suffer in silence. Arnold (14), not his real name, lives in remote Hurungwe. He had to look after his two young siblings when his parents died of HIV/AIDS. “I had to drop out of school. My young brother (3) is on antiretroviral therapy and I must be with him all the time. All the relatives abandoned us and we survive on gardening,” he said, fighting back tears..

Many young boys in the shoes of Arnold try hard not to cry because that is what society expects. Boys are socialised in a way that they should not shed tears even if the situation calls for tears. Many orphaned young boys have had to carry the burden of looking after the family. Child-headed families have mushroomed because of the scourge of AIDS. Most of the boys who are heading their families said they fail to attract the attention of well wishers and assisting organisations because they are male. “We have tried to apply for assistance but we are turned down. Girls usually get preferential treatment,” said Arnold. The writer found in the boys a consistent pattern of extreme resistance to discussing their molestation experiences. Most of the boys wanted ‘just to forget it ever happened’.

When referred for individual therapy, the majority also refused to deal with their sexual abuse experiences. Society and its professionals tend to disbelieve sexual abuse of boys by adult females. Such seduction is seen to be a “positive sexual experie-nce for the boy.” Cases of male children being abused are on the increase and social commentators feel that the number of issues going unreported is much higher. In Zimbabwe social workers say 50% of abused children are boys, although most of them do not report to the authorities.

In most cases, the abuse is only discovered when the child develops a sexually transmitted disease. Sodomy is common while women have turned on boys as young as six years old for sexual gratification.

Social commentator and director of Children in Crisis, Pardon Taodzera, said the sexual abuse of young boys has always been there but parents seem not to notice because they are not willing to.

“It has always been there, but is a problem society has never faced. Boys have always been abused but were never encouraged to report it to the authorities. Some of the offenders are those women whose husbands have left the country and they resort to sexually abusing boys to satisfy their need for a man,” he said.

“They fear that they may contract infections from adults hence they opt for boys whom they believe to be safe from HIV/AIDS. The idea of contracting a disease scares them off a mature man.” Eddington Mhonda, former co-ordinator of Padare Men’s Forum said the emergence of HIV/AIDS has complicated the problem of child abuse in Zimbabwe. A myth that males infected with the deadly virus can be cured of the virus if they have sexual intercourse with minors has seen a rise in cases of rapes among minors. “The fight against child abuse gets complicated with each coming day and we need policy instruments that will be able to deal with each challenge as it surfaces,” said Mhonda.

He said Zimbabwe had a number of legislative instruments to deal with child abuse but added that dealing with cultural norms went beyond modern law. “We need to educate our people who are still steeped in a culture which says it is okay to let a child abuser get away with murder as long as he/she is a relative,” added Mhonda.

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