Child sexual abuse in urban Tanzania : possibilities and barriers for prevention

Abstract: Background: Child sexual abuse is a global public health and human rights concern. Despite beinga crime in most countries, and with well-known physical and mental health consequences, the majority of sexual offences are not reported. Child sexual abuse is a maltreatment form characterized by contact or non-contact acts perpetrated by adults or older children toward younger children who have little power to resist. This thesis aims to understand the social context of child sexualabuse, and the perceived roles of parents, community, and key professionals in handling such incidents in urban Tanzania.Methods: A combination of qualitative and quantitative research designs were applied to four sub-studies performed in Temeke district, Dar es Salaam. Qualititative content analysis was conducted on 23 in-depth interviews to describe the perceptions of key professionals and their experiencesof handling cases of child sexual abuse, in addition, eight in-depth interviews with parents to capture their experiences of legal reporting of child sexual abuse incidents. Grounded theory was used to analyse 13 focus group discussions held with male and female community members to explore norm systems and community awareness related to child sexual abuse. Findings from these exploratory sub-studies paved the way for a school survey among 1359 students from 23 randomly selected secondary schools. Using descriptive statistics and multivariate regression analyses, prevalence, risk factors, and health consequences of child sexual abuse were estimated.Results: Lack of working tools and financial support were perceived as major problems among the key professionals. Corruption at community and institutional levels was seen as jeopardizing justice. Community passivity and lack of knowledge about laws regulating sexual offences were identifiedas additional challenges for conducting fair investigations. The community perspective illustrated that children’s rights were challenged by lack of agency. Community awareness about child sexual abuse was clear but there was also a lack of trust in that the healthcare and legal systems were capable of handling such cases. Myths and cultural beliefs justified abuse. Disclosure of abuse was threatened by fear of stigma and discrimination. Parental interviews identified four types of sexual abuse incidents. The type most strongly associated with a determination to seek justice was one with an innocent child. The youth who was forced into sex elicited feelings of parental betrayal. The consenting, curious youth created uncertainty in how to proceed, while the transactional sex youth evoked feelings of parental powerlessness. Shame and stigma, but also fear of perpetrator retaliation and breach of confidentiality, were seen as challenges for disclosure. The school survey showed that 28% (boys=30%, girls=26%) of the students were exposed to child sexual abuse, with boys more often affected than girls. Twenty-six per cent of boys and 19% of girls reported being forced to look at pornography. Forced sexual intercourse was experienced by 9.8% of boys and 8.7% of girls. Abuse increased with age and diminished self-rated health. Perpetrators were most often neighbours, teachers and peers. In contrast, survivor confidants were most often teachers, family members and friends. Most survivors did not want any action taken for the abuse. Proportions of students who perceived having fair/poor health increased with severity of abuse comparing the none-abused (7.0% and 6.3% of boys and girls respectively) with the ever abused (26% and 41% of boys and girls respectively) and those reporting penetrative sex (35% and 53% of boys and girls respectively). Likewise, suicidal ideation and attempts increased with severity of abuse when compared with those not abused.Conclusions and recommendations: Sexual abuse of children poses a devastating social, and public health challenge. In Tanzania neither the community nor the health or legal institutions are adequately prepared to handle these cases. Educating the community, economically empowering women and strengthening the medico-legal system are needed to increase the opportunity for human,legal and fair investigations and reactions. A national child protection system is needed to address the complexities of abuse at different levels and to safeguard the rights of children in Tanzania.