Parents urged to look out for signs of sexual abuse in children


Harare (New Ziana) –It is necessary that parents know the signs of sexual abuse in children in light of the recent rise in such cases in the country, an expert has said.

Dr Misheck Ruwende, the chief executive officer and founder of Health and Longevity, a start-up initiative aimed at providing evidence-based health information, said this on Tuesday.

He said often children did not talk about sexual abuse because the abuser could either have bribed or threatened them or told them that it was a “special secret”.

“With the continuously increasing sexual abuse cases, it is necessary that we know the signs of sexual abuse in children,” he said.

Dr Ruwende said children who were being sexually abused exhibited certain emotional, behavioural and physical changes.

He said emotional changes included being quieter or more distant than usual and crying for no obvious reason.

Children may also hint that the abuse is happening without revealing it outright, for example asking questions like ‘Do people have to keep secrets?’

A child may also start wetting the bed or soiling their pants, become aggressive or seem angry for no obvious reason, say their head or tummy hurts and there does not seem to be any cause (from hospital side), start having nightmares and become clingy.

Dr Ruwende said behavioural changes that children showed included not being interested in playing, or avoiding particular places or person, behaving in sexually inappropriate ways or use sexually explicit language, having problems sleeping or dropping in performance at school.

He said physical problems included developing health problems, including soreness in the genital and anal areas or sexually transmitted diseases, or they may become pregnant like the recent sad story of 9-year-olds.

“Ideally, we wouldn’t want it to get to physical problems as this is much more damaging to the child- the permanent marks, HIV, pregnancy should be avoided at all costs, so reporting within 72 hours is the goal so that the physical problems can be prevented but even after it’s never late.

“Majority (almost 90 per cent) of reported cases of sexual assault are perpetrated by close family members. So school teachers, neighbours, visitors play a critical role in identifying these acts because close members may protect their own,” he said.

Dr Ruwende is also senior resident medical doctor at the Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo.

New Ziana

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