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How lockdown turned homes into horrific theatres of incest

The global COVID-19 pandemic suddenly swept the entire world off its feet unexpectedly in 2020. The pandemic heightened domestic abuse, fueled incest, a vice that no one is talking about. 

16-year-old Lovisa is one of the victims of incest. Sitting nervously with her eyes cast on the floor; she shyly picks at her fingernails. Our reporter can easily see her pulse beating at a high speed. When asked her name, she takes time to whisper as her words are hardly audible.

Jane Kansiime, a counsellor at Wakisa Ministries, says that this is the way Lovisa acts around people she does not know. Kansiime says this is one of the impacts on Lovisa’s life since she was sexually abused and impregnated by her father.  

Lovisa sits in silence for ten minutes with a lot of mistrust for the strangers before her, looking uncertain where to begin narrating her story. The conversation later gets to a slow start after Kansiime nods in approval towards Lovisa to indicate that it's okay to tell her story. 

According to Lovisa, she was abused when her stepmother was away from home. She recalls her father came to her bed at night and forced himself onto her before threatening to end her life if she told anyone about what had happened.  
 
Incest refers to sexual relations between close relatives. For instance, parent to child, brother to sister, uncle/aunt to nephew or niece. Under section 149 of the Penal Code Act, incest is a criminal offence that is punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years. When the victim is below 18 years of age, the perpetrator is liable to life imprisonment if found guilty.   
 
With the onset of COVID-19, incest became prominent in families with children becoming silent victims. At Wakisa, four other girls share stories similar to Lovisa's. Stories where brothers, uncles, fathers or other male relatives used their close relationships with underaged females for sex.  

Kansiime says often girls are abused by men they trust. She says many of these cases have taken place in the past one year and six months. This time coincides with national school closures instituted by the government to forestall the spread of COVID-19.  

While this period should have been used by families to bond with their children, for many victims like Lovisa, they have become prison sentences with nowhere to go. After her family discovered that she was pregnant and her father was to blame, Lovisa became an outcast in the family.

Aunts that should have helped to ensure that her father pays for taking advantage of her, later turned into castigators, blaming her for having led to her father’s imprisonment. Her mother wanted nothing to do with her because she was a disgrace.

“Mother never wanted villagers to know that I am pregnant. My senga (sister to her father) always abused me. She used to tell me that I had allowed my father to abuse me. She said I always kept quiet and didn’t tell them. Every day she threatened to chase me away from her home because her brother was in prison,” Lovisa narrates.  

Teenage pregnancies are not new to the country. They have been recorded as one of the many adverse effects COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns have had on school-going children. But according to Kansiime, the lockdown seems to have given birth to a new trend where homes have become places where sexual offences are flourishing.   

"We had a father who was using his girls sexually and the stepmother knew. This girl would run to her stepmother to tell her, but because this person had infected her with HIV, it was her kind of revenge. She didn't care, she would be like, ok; 'he's your father and you're woman satisfy him.' So it was like that, people not caring and giving people all the freedom, they can do what they want," Kansiime said. 

She says they are increasingly seeing cases where siblings or cousins have engaged in sexual intercourse resulting in pregnancy. Kansiime says in some cases, fathers and uncles are responsible for many of the reported teenage pregnancies.  
 
"They have poor living spaces, you find like 4 kids in the same space living together. Then the next door, their parents are having sex at night, so they tend to practice what they see. Even exposure to pornography, these kids are going to start acting out what they watch. And guess what? They are doing it with their brothers, their uncles, their cousins and some of them are agemates, some of them take advantage because they are young and with that, it also comes with threats; I'm doing this but if you tell anyone your life ends," Kansiime adds. 

The horrifying stories from Wakisa are not isolated. In other parts of the country, reports indicate that incestuous relations are leading to many teenage pregnancies during this COVID-19 lockdown. 

Faith Amanya, the Bushenyi district principal probation officer, during a recent interview with URN, revealed that in September her office received two cases where fathers sexually abused their own daughters.  

In one of the cases, Amanya narrates how a father ended up impregnating his nine-year-old girl but instead of relatives helping the girl seek justice, they resorted to castigating her in a bid to silence her.
 
During a recent community engagement in Kiryandongo village in Hoima district organised by Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (Cehurd), the superintendent of police Augustus Turyetunge noted that police have recently registered 10 cases of father-daughter incest.  

“These are the few that pop out after children being impregnated. Many children are silently undergoing this vice at home and at times those who come to know about it shy away from reporting the cases,” Turyetunge said.  

Joanitah Mukalazi, the Wakiso district probation officer, says that most of the incest cases can only be revealed with pregnancy.
 
"Our little information shows that this is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed. The few cases that at times come out are as a result of pregnancy. Imagine, many children are silently being sexually abused," she noted.

Mukalazi says that in the semi-urban Wakiso district, fathers and stepfathers top the list of incest cases that have been reported to authorities. She, however, notes that her interaction with the community reveals that the vice is equally common among siblings more so those below 15 years.  

“Men at times are blamed for the vice since results of the actions can be revealed in pregnancy, but many boys are also sexually abused by female relatives and mothers,’’ she told URN.  
 
Kigezi Regional police community liaison Officer, ASP Enock Hatangimana says there is a need to sensitise the community, parents and guardians on how they can report such crimes to save the victims.

“At times such vices happen under the nose of parents and guardians, but at times they are also not aware. We need to sensitise them on how they can make homes a safe place for their children. Mainly mothers should be warned against trusting their underage with other people,” he said. 

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