Child molestation: Why the crime is on the rise

Some children run away from home to escape domestic violence and in the process are defiled by people who claim to give them protection. Others are lured by gifts. PHOTO BY Ismail Kezaala

What you need to know:

Police statistics indicate that cases of defilement have increased by 20 per cent in the last two years. In the third part of the series we look at what factors fuel rise of the crime.

Twenty six-year old Harriet (not real name) is pregnant with her fifth child. Harriet, however, has never laid eyes on her first four children from the time she left them with relatives.

To a mother, Harriet’s clear lack of parental love is shocking. “How can she be so emotionless?”, some would ask. Harriet’s past might answer part of that question. At the tender age of 13, Harriet was defiled and later on forced to marry her defiler. She gave birth to three daughters before running away from the horror she had been forced to live with every day of her life.

Later on, she met another man, became pregnant and gave birth to a son before abandoning him with his father to run away with another man. She is now expecting her fifth child with her new partner. One need not guess what will happen after she gives birth.

According to Campus Advocacy Network (CAN), Harriet’s reaction is psychological and is common among people who have suffered psychological trauma. “These symptoms suggest that they have turned their anger inward, and that they have unresolved fears,” CAN writes.

Harriet falls under the majority of girls who are defiled and sometimes forced to keep quiet about it. Over the past two years, Uganda has experienced an increase in the number of defilement cases reported at police. A 2013 police report on crime stated a 20 per cent increment in defilement cases, from 7690 in 2012 to 9,598.
We look at the reasons as to why the crime is on the rise.

OUT OF COURT settlement

Marlon Agaba, the senior programme officer at African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), points to out-of-court settlements as one of them. This is when the relatives or guardians of the defiled decide to be compensated out of court in terms of money, in kind or just like in Harriet’s situation, with marriage, as opposed to seeking justice.

“Out of court settlement is big. When a child is defiled, the defiler gives the family of the defiled maybe Shs50,000 or a cow or a bag of posho and they let the case die out. So, the defiler goes on defiling knowing that all he has to do is to give a bag of posho (maize flour) and he will be set free,” Agaba says.

And when two parties decide to settle out of court, police cannot do anything, Polly Namaye, assistant police spokesperson, says. “Some of them even fail to turn up in court and there is nothing we can do about that. We cannot have control over what people do or think,” she says.

Another contributing factor to the increasing cases of defilement, Agaba says, is the attitude of the defilers and the society which is imbedded in culture. He says some cultures such as in Karamoja condone marrying off of young girls. He adds that although defilers know that having sex with young girls is defilement, they still continue with the practice because of their mindset.

“Some cultures believe that when a girl develops breasts, she is supposed to be married off, therefore, defiling such a girl is no problem. In fishing communities, for example, they believe that you can cure HIV by sleeping with a virgin girl. Most of these young girls are virgins, which makes it okay to defile them, according to their mindset,” he says.

Being forced to keep quiet about the trauma experienced, as Harriet was made to do, is a difficult thing. But after receiving no support, most victims believe they have no choice. This silence also contributes to the increasing cases of defilement according to Mr Agaba. This he says often results because of blame which is often put on the mother or female guardian of the defiled child, which in turn leads to stigma. In Harriet’s case, her grandmother probably thought it wise to let her marry her defiler as opposed to putting him to book. She was probably afraid of being blamed by the community if she raised the alarm. Marriage seemed like a better option.

However, according to Ms Namaye, although a relative may not report to police, a neighbour can do so and it will be investigated to bring the culprit to book. “Most police operations are intelligence based. When a case is reported to police, a certain procedure is followed to find conclusive evidence before it is taken to court for trial,” she says. Few people however, are willing to do that.

The increasing cases of defilement include the high numbers of defilement of boys. According to Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, a human rights advocate and lawyer, the law on defilement recognises same sex defilement where women and men can be defilers of children of the same sex. “Sex has changed today. A woman can be a defiler of a girl and a man of a boy,” he explained in light of the 2007 amendment of the Sexual Offence Act.

While girls have for a long period of time been the most vulnerable to defilement but cases of boys being defiled have been increasing, according to, a social worker who preferred anonymity because she was not allowed to speak on behalf of the institution she works for. She says defilers of boys are fellow men who sodomise them. “Girls cases are in the open but that is not the same with boys, although boys too are defiled. Since the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, people now understand that boys too can be victims of these crimes,” Juliet said.

Despite the existence of these cases, the social worker noted that few are willing to talk about them because of the stigma associated with it, which poses a challenge to solving the cases and convicting the defilers. “Boys are also swayed just like girls. The youngest case I have worked on is a seven-year-old boy who was probably also seduced because of sweets from a village uncle,” she added.

Namaye also pointed out domestic violence as one of the causes of increasing defilement cases.
“When a father beats up the mother, the children run away from home and sometimes meet their defilers. Families are no longer stable and as a result, children are not given the right example on what to do,” she explained.

Another contributing factor, according to Agaba, is poverty. Harriet’s grandmother, just like many guardians of victims of defilement, are not well off financially. When they see an opportunity to marry off one of their children or grandchildren, it becomes an easy way out. Agaba says when people are poor, they easily give up justice to get a little relief in terms of food or money.
“Parents are easily bribed when they are poor and they end up settling for cheap gifts from the defilers,” he said.

Common types of defilement

Aggravated defilement: This occurs when the defiler is a relative or guardian or has HIV. It also occurs when the defiled is below the age of 14, according to the law. Child to child sex: Children having sex with fellow children is a form of defilement. According to Marlon Agaba, the senior programme officer at ANPPCAN, if a 17-year-old boy has sex with a 15-year-old girl, both can be arrested for defiling each other. Explaining why, Rwakafuzi said this is because the law assumes that a person below 18 years cannot consent to have sex, therefore, even though two children have sex after “agreeing”, both are defiling each other. Prostitution: This occurs when the prostitute in question is below the age of consent which is 18 years.

Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, a lawyer, says although there are cases of defilement, some cases reported are not genuine. “Only a third of the cases reported are genuine, the rest are reported because of ulterior motives by the accusers. Any person has a right to withdraw a case from police as long as there are genuine reasons but most of these people report the cases and make the arrests because of ulterior motives such as love for money and land,” Rwakafuzi said.

Disputing Rwakafuzi’s claims, Agaba said although half of the cases reported to police end up being settled out of court while others are not fully investigated, the cases are genuine defilement cases.
“I don’t agree with that statement. It is just that cases reported at police cannot be easily followed up due to a number of reasons,” Agaba said.

Some of the reasons he gives are frustrations faced by parents of the victims due to “endless” police investigations which forces them to lose interest in the cases. Another reason he gives is the challenge faced in defining the right age of the defiled which is a pre-requisite to prove that defilement has occurred.

Although Rwafuzi’s statements are true for a handful of cases, many girls just like Harriet, go through traumatising experiences and have to forge a way to live again despite the continuous reminder of the horror they have been through.