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 Saturday 28 February 2009
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MOZAMBIQUE: Girls' clubs highlight sexual abuse

Photo: Lucas Bonanno/PlusNews
Girls' clubs are uncovering sexual abuse
CHIMOIO, 25 February 2009 (PlusNews) - Ester*, 7, returned to her home in a densely populated neighbourhood of Chimoio, capital of Manica Province in central Mozambique, after a brief outing with a 19-year-old male acquaintance and tearfully told her parents she had been raped.

"He came to my house to ask me to go get his girlfriend [whom Ester knows] at a neighbour's house," she said. "While we were walking, he pulled me into an empty yard with tall grass, attacked me and had sex with me."

Ester's parents informed the neighbourhood watch group of parents and community leaders, who reported the case to the authorities.

Ester later tested HIV positive. While waiting for justice to be served, she is receiving psychological and social support from the organization, Levanta Mulher e Siga o seu Caminho (Women, Get Up and Follow Your Path, known by the Portuguese-language acronym, LEMUSICA).

Girls' campaign

As part of a campaign financed by ActionAid International - "No to Sexual Abuse of Girls in Education", which aims to reduce the level of sexual abuse of minors - Girls' Clubs have been set up in schools and communities throughout Manica.

The clubs work with local neighbourhood watch groups set up to uncover cases of sexual abuse against children and take them to the local authorities. The groups also hold debates and publicise laws relating to sexual abuse.

Since 2006, 30 clubs and neighbourhood groups have been established. Esther's was one of four cases of sexual abuse against girls in the province reported in 2008, down from 15 reported in 2007.

"Since the campaign was launched, the number of girls raped has gone down, and complaints are on a downward trend as well, which means that the community has become more aware of the problem and is more attentive about defending girls' interests," said Cecília Maria Ernesto, a programme official at LEMUSICA, which manages the campaign in Manica.

The four cases were forwarded to the Assistance Office for Women and Children Victims of Domestic Violence (GAMCVD), which is connected to Mozambique's police service.

Economic situation

Ernesto acknowledged that the dire financial situation of many of the families of young sexual abuse victims presented a challenge to the campaign. "Economic hardship makes parents see this as a way of earning money," she told IRIN/PlusNews.

"The aggressor is charged with a fine and no official complaint is made," and the authorities often only became involved when the accused refuses to pay a "fine", Ernesto said.

Sometimes the fines take the form of lobolo, the traditional dowry paid by a boy's family to the family of a girl he plans to marry. In many cases, abusers are confident they can get away with their crimes by simply paying lobolo, even if they have no intention of marrying the victim.

"The lobolo is a ritual that jeopardizes girls' freedom," said Paciência Nhampimbe, head of GAMCVD. "But many of [the victims] have gained their voices, so some of the complaints of rape are being reported by the girls themselves."

Sexual extortion

Between 2006 and 2008, more than half the cases that came to light through the Girls' Clubs and neighbourhood watch groups involved teachers raping their students.

''My teacher swore that if I didn't become sexually involved with him I would have little chance of passing''
"In some cases, the teachers tried to pay the families so the cases wouldn't be reported, but all of them were sent to the judicial authorities," said Ernesto.

A study in 2006 by the local Public Integrity Centre (CIP) revealed that sexual extortion was one of the main forms of corruption in Mozambique's education sector.

It is not uncommon for teachers to extort sexual favours from female students as a condition for promoting them to the next grade, or giving them a pass mark in examinations. Sex is also used as a form of currency when female students do not have money to pay school fees.

"I had to transfer from my school because my teacher swore that if I didn't become sexually involved with him I would have little chance of passing," said Rosa T*, 17, a student at Messica Secondary School. In 2008, a student at the same school became pregnant after being coerced into sex by a teacher.

The pilot phase of the "No to Sexual Abuse" drive is due to end in March, but the campaign is expected to be extended.

*Not their real names


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Children, (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (PLUSNEWS) Prevention - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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