Every year, millions of girls and boys around the world face sexual abuse and exploitation. Sexual violence occurs everywhere – in every country and across all segments of society.
By Constance Ndeleko
Children are the most vulnerable group of people in the community. Considerately, as we speak about justice for children it should be done efficiently in a child friendly manner and fast enough to ensure that justice is not delayed. Children cannot wait.
Children living in conflict setting tends to experience diverse forms of child abuse including sexual violence. Despondently, children have and are still facing prejudices with nowhere to run to. In cases where justice comes by it is typically a rigorous process which is wearing and lengthy for them to get justice.
The brutality of sexual violence frequently causes serious physical injuries and the consequences might be particularly severe for children as their bodies are not fully developed. In many post-conflict areas, the social impacts of sexual violence cannot be overstated.
Sexual violence can also affect children’s social development by depriving them of the environment and the means to fully develop their potential. They may normalize the use of violence within relationships, exposing them to the risk of re-victimization.
Children born of sexual violence suffer as a result of their mothers’ own stigmatization, social exclusion, and discrimination. They are at risk of infanticide, abuse, abandonment, rejection, marginalization and severe human rights violations.
In post-conflict northern Uganda, where 8,000 children are estimated to have been born as a result of wartime rape, a community-based organization composed of survivors of forced marriage and sexual violence in conflict collectively seeks justice for their children in a process referred to as child tracing. The Women’s Advocacy Network brings together different survivor groups to help identify, in a sensitive and careful way, the paternal side of a child’s family. The group also mediates conflict and works to transform painful relationships to secure a future for their children and reach justice and reconciliation in divided communities.
The protection needs of children born of sexual violence in conflict have long been overlooked despite the severe and even life-threatening risk of stigmatization, rejection and discrimination that these children face.
Sexual violence also has long-term complications for the economic futures of girl survivors. In areas where gender norms and limited economic opportunities may make marriage the most reachable route to social acceptance and financial security, neglect and the loss of their marriage prospects can result in a lifetime of poverty.
Children may face stigma that forces them out of their families, isolates them from their communities and leaves them to deal with their physical and psychological trauma alone. Boys who suffer sexual violence may feel helpless; girls may perceive themselves or be perceived to be dishonored and impure.
Sexual violence is far from being a temporally discrete trauma. The psychological consequences for child survivors of sexual violence include post-traumatic stress dis-order, somatic disorders, intense feelings of rage and shame, depression, self-blame and memory loss.. Survivors often live with stigma and distress for many years, if not the rest of their lives.
Child survivors need age-appropriate and gender- responsive programs and services that meet their needs. To deliver a complete, child-focused and gender- responsive services and information to child survivors of sexual violence, service providers must:
Impunity negatively affects children’s right to development and the well-being and stability of communities they live in, and risks influencing negatively the adults they will become. It further affects children’s right to a judicial remedy and reparations and strips them of an opportunity to participate in the judicial process.
We have international, regional and national legal instruments that are in place however, some states have not implemented them to ensure thorough protection of child rights. Therefore, there’s a clear need for us to observe and abide by strengthening existing laws as well as ensuring that we find new ways to advance justice for children.
- Ensure children have safe access to shelter, education, water and sanitation
- Invest in appropriate GBV services and information, sexual and reproductive health services and information as well as mental health and psychosocial support services and robust child protection services, ensuring appropriate activities and care for all children regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and sexual characteristics
- Support community-based child protection systems that link to child-friendly and gender-responsive health and legal services where provisions are made to ensure safe and confidential reporting for children
- Develop referral pathways and provide support for service providers to ensure they meet the needs of children.
Research demonstration that sexual violence can both drive conflicts at the outset and intimidate the prospects of sustainable post-conflict peace. Therefore empowering both child survivors and their communities, and advocating for more political and financial and technical resources to tackle this problem, is of paramount importance.