Sex abuse of young girls in Africa
Thirty miles outside this down-at-the-heels seaside town, Justin Betombo tends his vanilla plants and cheers the local soccer team as if he had not a care in the world. And in fact, what was once his greatest worry has been almost magically lifted from his shoulders.
In the local prosecutor's office, a file filled with accusations that he had sodomized his 9-year-old niece has vanished.
Mr. Betombo was arrested in 2003 after the girl, Kenia, said he had savagely assaulted her. The police obtained his confession, which he later recanted, and a doctor's certificate that Kenia had been sexually violated, rendering her incontinent and anorexic. Twice they sent the case file to the prosecutor.
There matters ended. Mr. Betombo attended one hearing in the prosecutor's office, but Kenia's parents say they were not told about it. The records are nowhere to be found. And Mr. Betombo walked away a free man. Kenia's parents, distressed by what they saw as a travesty of justice, asked that her name be published, hoping that her case would set an example.
Among sub-Saharan Africa's children, such stories are disturbingly common. Even as this region races to adopt many of the developed world's norms for children, including universal education and limits on child labor, one problem - child sexual abuse - remains stubbornly resistant to change.
In much of the continent, child advocates say, perpetrators are shielded by the traditionally low status of girls, a lingering view that sexual abuse should be dealt with privately, and justice systems that constitute obstacle courses for victims. Data is sparse and sexual violence is notoriously underreported. But South African police reports give an inkling of the sweep of child victimization. In the 12 months ending in March 2005, the police reported more than 22,000 cases of child rape. In contrast, England and Wales, with nine million more people than South Africa, reported just 13,300 rapes of women and girls in the most recent 12-month period.
"The prevalence of child rape in South Africa goes from really, really high to astronomically high," said Dr. Rachel Jewkes, a specialist on sexual violence with South Africa's Medical Research Council.
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