Last week in Douala, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the « Ecole Instrument de Paix », a local NGO, organized a workshop to address the growing phenomenon of sexual abuse, especially in the lower age brackets.
The aim of the come-together was to raise awareness as to the gravity of the situation in the wake of the rise in the phenomenon.
At the Douala workshop, participants were told of some of the most recent cases of sexual abuse in children, recalling that a few years ago, a snack bar owner subjected her teen-age employees to sexual intercourse with her customers in exchange for money which she kept. This was done to the full knowledge of several people who would not denounce such a misdemeanor. Sex hunter of this queer specie had a field day. Similar stories abound about under-age children who are brought into the cities at the behest of “aunties” ostensibly to baby-sit, but many of such children end up as sex slaves. Initially forced into these precocious sex, some end up in prostitution as, it is said, the taste of the pudding is in the eating.
The school milieu is no better. While male peers were in past years responsible for a majority of teen-age pregnancies, especially in the school milieu, teachers and even parents have become predators.
The school environment has become a very large worksite for sexual activity. A few years ago in the South West Region, it was reported that as many as 40 girls had become pregnant in a single secondary school. That figure is sufficiently indicative of the seriousness of the issue and the need to address it adequately.
It is true poverty has been the main fuel encouraging the development of these practices because, for paltry sums of money and other forms of enticements, young girls easily fall prey to these sex predators.
The timing of the Douala workshop is auspicious as it comes at the very beginning of a new school year when hundreds of thousands of teen-age girls and boys are back to school. Many of the girls walk long distances to get to school and along their trail, they come across all sorts of people, many of whom do not necessarily have the best of intentions. Within school premises too, the practice of “sexually- transmitted marks” is on the rise or a kind of barter in which underachieving female students make their way through examinations in exchange for sexual gratifications for their teachers. Workshops such as the one organized in Douala last week may take the form of a drop in the ocean given the scope of the problem.
What is necessary now is the generalization of such initiatives so that all stake-holders in the education of the young are sensitized on the dangerous character of this new social ill. Poverty is taking its invasive drive and conquering it is not for tomorrow; not even for the day after. But parents have to continue to make sacrifices to ensure that their siblings have a bare minimum that can keep them away from elementary want. Parental counseling at home and closer surveillance at school may also be of help. The law must also be seen to be exerting its full weight on all those caught in acts of child abuse while those abused must constantly denounce their aggressors because part of the explanation for the exponential rise in this new form of crime lies in the fact that many of the sex abuse cases are never brought to open knowledge.