Child rape in South Africa persists unabated (Feature)
By Ingeborg Lichtenberg Feb 27, 2011, 2:06 GMT
Johannesburg - Nomathamsanqa would fetch the key for her home from the friendly neighbour when she returned home from school. But the daily routine turned to horror when the then 9-year-old South African was raped by the man she knew well.
'He forced me on the bed and pulled off my panties. I did fight him and cried, but he still raped me. I don't understand why. I don't understand why,' says Nomathamsanqa, now 13.
Her mother Martha is also still haunted by the gut-wrenching moment, two days after the attack, when she found out what had happened to the child whose name means 'luck.'
Nomathamsanqa is by far the rule rather than exception in South Africa, which has the highest incidence of child rape in the world, says Lynne Cawood of the national emergency helpline Childline, adding that one child is abused about every 10 minutes.
Such crimes have come into focus with an ongoing court case in the national capital Pretoria, involving a family of nine charged with sexually abusing six children. The youngest of the alleged victims is four and two are foster children.
Those arrested include a grandfather, 58, grandmother, 57, their two adult sons, the grandfather's brother and his wife, and their son, who is reportedly mentally disabled. The 26-year-old wife of one of the sons was also arrested.
While this particular case of child sexual abuse has made newspaper headlines, such commonplace crimes don't usually make the front page.
Headlines read like the titles of b-grade slasher films: Nine- month-old baby raped by six men; Four-year-old girl dies after being raped by father; 14-month-old girl raped by her two uncles; Eight- month-old infant gang-raped by four men.
Experts have warned that South Africa's children are so brutalized that they have become desensitized to sexual violence.
Even American talk show queen Oprah Winfrey had to deal with the plague when six students at the exclusive 40-million-dollar school for underprivileged girls she founded south of Johannesburg fell victim to a 27-year-old dormitory matron.
Statistics are inconclusive, but according to the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency (CIET), an international group of epidemiologists and social scientists, between 60,000 and 70,000 cases are reported in South Africa every year.
Cawood says unreported cases could be up to 10 times higher. About 40 per cent of girls and boys disclosed in a Childline survey recently that they had been sexually molested at some stage in their childhood, while 60 per cent of both boys and girls did not see the link between rape and violence.
By contrast, it is estimated that about 8 per cent of boys and 12 per cent of girls are sexually abused in Britain. In the United States, figures vary widely, but the CIET reports an average of 17 per cent for boys and 28 per cent for girls.
'It's partly rooted in our incredibly disturbed past and the way that South African men over the centuries have been socialized into forms of masculinity that are predicated on the idea of being strong and tough, and the use of force to assert dominance and control over women, as well as other men,' says Professor Rachel Jewkes of the Medical Research Council.
Another contributing factor is that some South Africans believe that having sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS.
Evidence of this culture of violence and patriarchy is underlined by the fact that it is estimated that South African women and children have a greater chance of being raped - 90 per cent of the time by somebody close to them - than learning how to read.
And yet, only 5 per cent of abusers are convicted, says Cawood.
The man who raped Nomathamsanqa was sentenced to five years imprisonment, but served only 18 months.
'The government isn't doing enough at all. The day after he was arrested, he went out on bail and walking the streets. He should be in jail for the rest of his life,' says Martha.
'One day he will rape another daughter.'
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