A radio interview this morning in South Africa on child-to-child sex abuse prompted me to ask this question:
Why are child abusers becoming younger and younger, at least in the South African context? I get disturbed and I guess you are too, at the thought of three five year olds sexually abusing each other. Could it be that there is something wrong society is doing? What is it that adults/parents are not doing or doing wrong? Can we entirely blame this phenomenon on the influence of social media? What can be done to make sure that the claim “children are our future” becomes a reality? What are your thoughts on the matter?
You are raising a challenging question. I am not sure whether there is only one answer to this problem. One has to look at the socio-economic environments where children are growing up and developing. Houses are so small and people don’t have privacy and hence children are exposed to behaviours that are not conducive for their development at an early age. Then we can also look at the issues like substance abuse, alcoholism and many another social challenges that contribute towards this phenomena.
I believe that is perpetrated by the fact that our children are exposed to media and social networks so that nothing escapes their attention. From sex videos, to explicit music content...and various video games that promote violence, etc... It’s no wonder these kids are like this, and then there is a tremendous failure from our side to monitor what these kids are up to when we are not around, like parents guiding them through the programmes....
Eastern Cape, South Africa
I must say I am very disturbed when about the issue of primary kids playing a rape game. When I was in primary I could not wait for lunch time because I knew we were going to play so many games such as touch or skipping etc. Today's life style is very influenced by technology, kids are exposed to many things in the media. It’s not easy to control what your child should see and not see; how does a primary child turn rape into a game? They are not even in a stage to be learning about such things. I would also want to know where did things go wrong? It is really sad how childhood development is changing.
My immediate response is to ask the question 'What is abuse?'
In Ireland the 'Children First, National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children' is our professional guide book. It contains a number of curious anomalies such as the suggestion that any sexual contact between an adult and child is considered to be abusive, while physical abuse is defined by a 'threshold of significant harm'. The suggestion being, that you can hit a child without damaging him, but anything sexual is automatically harmful. Some people might say that is fair enough, but I think that is largely to do with the emotion that is attached to sexual 'abuse'. If we remove emotion from the debate, we find that the concept of abuse is (at least to some extent) culturally relative.
I once worked with an Indian woman who was married and fully sexually active at 15. Her marriage had been arranged by her parents and her husband was 12 years older then her. I put it to her that in Ireland, she would be considered to have been abused and her husband could have been imprisoned. In response, she calmly smiled and said that she wasn't abused, her parents simply did what was normal in their culture at the time.
This got me thinking about the issue of the cultural context of abuse and the extent to which societies response can potentially create, or at least fuel the trauma associated with the 'abusive' act. I am not suggesting ON ANY LEVEL that we should all be running around encouraging teenagers to have sex with adults, but I cannot help but wonder if societies’ response creates (to some extent) or fuels the trauma by telling those teenagers that they have been abused, even if that is not their lived experience.
Humans are sexual beings, that is part of life. When you talk about three five year old children sexually 'abusing' each other, I have to wonder about their emotional or intellectual understanding of their actions and I find myself questioning the difference between sexual exploration and sexual abuse. Of course, I would have to know the facts of the particular case, but I am loathed to jump to the conclusion that anything sexual between five years olds is automatically abusive.
Another curious anomaly about the Irish system is that there is no mention of obesity being abusive. In Ireland, you can feed your child whatever you want. He can be twice the recommended weight, therefore increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and any number of other complaints that will (in all probability) take twenty years off his life, but that is not considered an abuse. One has to wonder!!!!!!
With kind regards,
Quick input… Also remember that in a child care centre you pool together a group of children that do not accurately represent the norm “out there” – you have more children that have been exposed to abuse and various other forms of maltreatment pooled together. That is bound to present its own set of challenges.
Werner van der Westhuizen
I think John Byrne’s comments are spot on. I’m going to keep my mouth shut about what I did when I was five.