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We can shield our children against sexual abuse

I met Katie Kirabo (real name protected); a friendly, bubbly and sassy young woman at an event hosted by Akina Mama wa Afrika.

The topic was about ending sexual and gender-based violence. Behind the beautiful face, one would never know the dark secret Kirabo has kept for years.

She is a survivor of sexual and gender-based violence. But like many women, she didn’t report her case to any authority; she kept silent.  

Kirabo grew up with her parents, four siblings and a number of extended family members. Unfortunately, at 16, she was sexually abused by her maternal uncle, who was about 19.

She says that her uncle had been trying to seduce her for a while until that fateful day when no one was at home. He pounced on her in the bedroom and raped her.

After the incident, he threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone. Because of that threat, she didn’t tell even her mother or father.

The media is rife with stories about child sexual abuse in homes, especially by close family members or relatives. The response remains largely inadequate.

Sadly, even when the cases are reported, most families seek other means to resolve the matter. A number of defilement cases, instead of being reported to police, are negotiated by the parents and a settlement fee is usually agreed upon.

We can no longer remain silent over sexual and gender-based violence. The time has come for this issue to be addressed squarely and end its impact on society. To begin with, we need to keep the focus on adult responsibility, while teaching children how to protect themselves.

Parents and guardians need to take an active role in their children’s lives and stay alert for any possible problems. In Kirabo’s case, her parents didn’t know about the abuse.

We also need to make sure our children know that they can talk to us about anything that bothers or confuses them. Children should be taught about the difference between good secrets (such as birthday surprises) and bad secrets (those that make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable).

We have also been encouraged to teach children accurate names of private body parts and the difference between touches that are “okay” and “not okay”.

I am glad that many schools in Uganda have adopted The Bad Touch by Lillian Butele. Butele is also a survivor of sexual and gender-based violence.

We also need to empower our children to be able to make decisions about their bodies by allowing them age-appropriate privacy and encouraging them to say “no” when they do not want to touch or be touched by others.

Some parents are very keen about monitoring children’s use of technology including cell phones, social networking sites and messaging. A regular review of contact lists and finding out about other people in our children’s lives is also quite helpful.

Lastly, it is critical for us as parents to trust our instincts! If you feel uneasy about leaving your child with someone, don’t do it. If you are concerned about possible sexual abuse, ask questions.

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