I have read with concern a number of media reports in which parents and guardians have been cited as defilers. One recent case has been that of Ms. Joyce Nakanjako and Ms. Shakira Namwanje. One was defiled by her own father while the other by a close relative. In both cases, the victims were infected with HIV and are living very difficult lives. These cases are continuing happen in a country which has a very strong law against defilement!
Each day that passes by, the Uganda Police Force receives at least 35 cases of sex related crimes with defilement toping the list. However, defilement cases by parents and guardians are rarely reported to police. Some parents and guardians who decide to defile their children do not take into consideration the harm that their actions have on these children. Even some societal members unaware of these consequences choose not to report this ugly behaviour, classifying it as a family matter.
Below, I share with you scientific facts about what happens to children who are sexually abused by their parents or guardians.
Children who are defiled by their parents, guardians undergo severe social, emotional and physical difficulties more than those who are defiled by someone outside of their family.
Such children experience stronger feelings of betrayal, violation and shame which result into disruption of behavior and confusion in thought potentially leading to attention difficulties.
It should be noted that attention difficulties have longer-term negative outcomes on children such as failure by them to make good sexual and reproductive health choices, failure to be good parents, total acceptance of gender-based violence and its consequences as normal, adult substance abuse, among others.
Children who are defiled by their parents and guardians also experience post-traumatic problems and stress reactions. Post-traumatic problems produce changes in children’s brains leading to executive functioning problems that cause attention and concentration difficulties.
Stress reactions in these children are usually subserved by several inter related biological systems including the sympathetic nervous system which mediates the fight-flight response and the parasympathetic nervous system which mediates the freeze or surrender response potentially leading to subjective complaints of poor concentration and measurable impairment of the memory.
Sometimes during the freeze period, their vagus nerves (the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system) get activated leading to a slowing down of the heart, a drop in the blood pressure and an increase in the potential for fainting.
Children who are defiled by their parents or guardians suffer dissociation which affects their conscious, memory, identity and perception of the environment.
Dissociation which more often happens in children who have been defiled by their parents or guardians further leads to less connectivity in the corpus collosum, leading to problems in attention and information processing. The corpus collosum is a major interconnection between the two hemispheres of the brain which serves to facilitate cortical communication and integration of input.
Children who are defiled by their parents and guardians also have a greater difficulty sustaining attention because they are often flooded with incompatible and disruptive information resulting into dysregulation. It becomes very normal for such children to commit crimes in their adult life or even engage in risky sexual behaviour.
That is why, these children who are defiled by their parents and guardians need immediate rehabilitation as soon as defilement is identified. Experts should be able to help them in a timely manner to acknowledge and process traumatic aspects of the abuse in an effort to reduce the cyclic nature of traumatic reminders leading to unmanageable stress and dissociation.
Such children should also be given skills and techniques in relaxation and breathing as a means of coping with stress.
Those in more vulnerable situations should have their needs met until this disaster is completely mitigated. Some should actually be taken to safer homes temporarily as the abusive environment is being sorted. Unfortunately, such houses are few if any in Uganda. Government should look into this!
These efforts can help these children return to complete normalcy and avoid hardships in their adult lives.
The writer is a member of a member of Sironko District Council representing Budadiri Town Council