Shock and outrage at claims of sexual abuse of more than 300 school girls

Rape.
Rape.
Image: 123RF Stock Image/ lculig

More than 300 young school girls in uMhlathuze on KwaZulu-Natal's northern coast have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of family members and people who are known to them‚ and in many cases their parents are turning a blind eye.

Between January and now‚ a total of 302 young school girls — some as young as 12 — have been sexually abused in the city of uMhlathuze‚ which incorporates Richards Bay‚ Empangeni‚ eSikhaleni‚ Ngwelezane‚ eNseleni‚ Felixton and Vulindlela and other rural areas.

These shocking numbers have forced the uMhlathuze Municipality into action by organising an awareness campaign on child abuse which took place at Mandlanzini Sports Grounds in Richards Bay on Tuesday.

Sexual abuse of learners is said to be rife at Kati Primary School in the Mandlanzini village where cases were brought to the attention of the municipality through reports from the Ward 4 war room.

War rooms are part of the provincial government’s Operation Sukuma Sakhe [stand up and build] programme where all ward community members register their problems.

King Cetshwayo District’s coordinator of mental health and disability and rehabilitation programme‚ Busisiwe Phungula‚ said there has been an increase in the number of children being sexually abused.

“We have 302 children under the age of 12 who have visited our health offices in uMhlathuze who were inspected and it was discovered that they had been sexually abused‚” she said.

She said they hoped that through the event they will be able to make the community aware about the scourge of sexual abuse of children in the area.

“We hope that if the community is aware of what is going on we will be able to work together to find solutions so that we can protect the children because their sexual abuse does not only affect their bodies but also affects them mentally‚ which also results in their education being affected‚” said Phungula.

uMhlathuze deputy mayor Slondile Mkhize said they were shocked that the children were being abused by their families‚ relatives or people they know.

“That’s why it’s so difficult for teachers. I spoke to one of the teachers and he said the difficulty they are faced with is that a child is abused by her uncle and as soon as he finds out that teachers are aware he takes the child out of school‚” said Mkhize.

She said the municipality will engage with social development‚ justice and the police on how to fight this scourge of sexual abuse.

“We also spoke to the children to make them aware about this and we are now speaking to the community so that they are also aware and so that they don’t just keep quiet about this abuse. One child says when she reported at home that she had been sexually abused‚ she was accused by her parent of lying. So these are some of the challenges the children are faced with‚” she said.

uMhlathuze spokesman Mdu Ncalane said the cases of sexual abuse have been reported to the police but most of them were withdrawn due to a lack of evidence. He added that in most rural communities sexual abuse is considered a shame and many girls were afraid to report it.

He said all girls who have been victims of sexual abuse have been referred to health institutions for counselling and have been constantly monitored.

Ncalane said reports indicated that cases of sexual abuse affected children in their every day lives‚ especially those that are perpetrated by their relatives while their parents turn a blind eye after being alerted to the situation.

“This situation is exacerbated when children are intimidated by the perpetrators that they would be killed when they report these incidents. At times other forms of abuse are perpetrated by some cultural beliefs such as the cleansing ceremony and fining of an abuser (inhlawulo) as opposed to reporting the matter to the police.

“Another form of abuse that children‚ especially young girls‚ continue to suffer is ukuthwala kwezintombi — the abduction of young girls into forced marriages where they are forced to engage in sexual relations under the pretence of preparing them to marry the abusers‚” said Ncalane.

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