Senegal opens up on growing problem of child rape

Lawmakers and rights groups in Senegal are calling for tougher legislation to tackle what they say is a massive rise in the number of rapes — many involving children.

Adama Sow, president of the Research and Action Group on Violence against Children, said that between September 2006 and December 2007, his organisation had reported nearly 400 cases of rape.

But last year the figure had climbed to almost 600 cases, “98 percent of which involved minors,” he said. “There is a code of silence surrounding rape in Senegal, with many cases going unreported,” said Omar Ndoye, a lawmaker who is president of a parliamentary committee for the protection of children.

Ndoye said more and more children were becoming victims of rape, with boys as well as girls affected.

“The Kolda region had 211 cases in 2008, of which half were rapes of pupils by teachers and resulting in pregnancies,” said Sow, citing figures from the police, courts and non-governmental organisations.

Ndoye blamed the rise on greater promiscuity and a shortage of housing, adding that foreign television programmes and the Internet may also have a role to play.

But Sow said “the root cause” is poverty.

Kolda, one of the poorest regions, would have had more than a third of the cases in 2008, he said.

Moustapha Ka, deputy director for criminal cases at the Justice Ministry, said incest was also a key factor.

“Rape by family members plays a big part but the families prefer secrecy and don’t bring it before the courts,” he said

Interviewed by the private weekly Nouvel Horizon, clinical psychologist Mamadou Mbodj said the problem has always been around but not discussed.

“Depravity has no race, colour, age or religion… It has always existed. We just weren’t talking about it,” he said. “As we have become more immoral, society is just less and less inclined to stay silent.”

In Senegal rape carries a penalty of 10 years in prison. This can, however, be doubled in extreme cases such as incest or if it involves a repeat offender.

Sow called for rapists to be chemically castrated but Fatoumata Sy, president of a group that tackles violence against women, said prevention was the key.

“We must pay particular attention to prevention, detecting people who are disturbed and providing better training for investigators,” Sy said.

At the Justice Ministry, Ka said the government is planning to improve the court system because many rape cases end up being dropped and the perpetrators discharged as a result of badly prepared cases.

He said the reforms would allow victims’ medical certificates to be produced in court and strengthen the ability of forensic police to carry out DNA tests.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted the problem of sexual violence against women and children during her tour of Africa this past week.

While in the Democratic Republic of Congo she called for punishing soldiers who use rape as a weapon of conflict.

Clinton said she pressed Congolese President Joseph Kabila to arrest officers behind an epidemic of sexual assault in the restive east of the country.

“We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender based violence committed by so many and that there must be arrests, prosecutions and punishments,” she said.

She said Kabila agreed to allow a US team of legal and technical experts to make “specific” recommendations on how to combat the sexual attacks. mrb/lbx/nw/boc

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