Two weeks ago, police in Rubirizi district came in for a roasting after they released a defilement suspect, a one Umaru, under unclear circumstances.
Umaru, a 48-year-old teacher at Nyabubare primary school was arrested for defiling and impregnating his 12-year-old pupil. As JACQUELINE BANGIRANA reports, parents are now bewildered over how to protect their children from sex predators.
The pupil, whose name is protected, had been staying in a hostel at the school, owing to the lengthy distance from her home. However, she was found at Umaru’s house, and she confessed to have been living there.
While the police and local government leaders argue about the scandal, parents are scratching their heads to find ways to protect their children from sex predators.
According to Jackson Wanzala, a senior male teacher at Kitante primary school, the problem is caused by concerns over when sex education should happen. In many areas it is a taboo subject, but Wanzala believes, “it should be carried out at any age but it should be categorised according to their age”.
Stephen Langa, the executive director of Family Life Network, agrees with Wanzala.
“The first sex education a child gets is from the way their parents behave. Children should get this information when they are emotionally mature. Parents have the biggest influence on children because that’s how God designed it,” he says.
Lillian Butele-Kelle, a retired Uganda musician and author of The Bad Touch, a book about her experience with sexual molestation, has been touring several schools speaking to parents and teachers about how children should be exposed to sex education.
“The advantages of teaching children about the bad touch cannot be underestimated, because the scars can last a lifetime,” she said. “I wish I had read such a book [The Bad Touch] as a child, perhaps my own abuse could have been prevented.”
Butele-Kelle’s advice and that of others above is being followed by a growing number of mothers, most of them younger than 40 years. In the past, parents rarely broached the subject, fearing that it would turn the children into sex-crazied teenagers.
Journalist Diana Kagere Mugerwa agrees with Wanzala. The mother of four says she has had to talk to two of her older children (all girls) about how to relate with the opposite sex.
“With the older girl, who is about to join the university, we started a year ago … that is when I discovered that there was a man already scheming to take advantage of her innocence,” she says. “With my six-year-old, we have been talking about the bad touch and such things.”
Lydia Ainomugisha, a mother of two, says she has been advising to her firstborn daughter, now aged three, not to allow bad touches from strangers or even neighbours.
“I’m cautious with some male strangers carrying the baby for too long and have taught her to bathe her private parts,” she says.
Tracy Namusoke, a mother of a seven-year-old, says she was compelled to start the talk two years ago.
“My son asked me what private parts were; that is when I [realised] I had to give him that talk,” she says.
Jackson Wanzala, the teacher at Kitante PS, mentioned above, says parents need to get to the grips of imparting sex education to their children early. His insistence is borne out of a 2014 Unicef report, which indicates that the average age of first sexual intercourse among children is nine years – especially in the rural areas!
“I encourage parents to create good relationships with their children so that their children are open enough to ask them about sex,” he says. “Especially since we are in the internet age where anything can be discovered … a child going on to ask you about sex with all the information they are exposed to from the internet and media speaks a lot about the kind of relationship you have with them.”
He suggests that pupils in lower primary (p1 to p3) should be given protective information, like don’t allow bad touches from strangers, especially certain sensitive body parts. He suggests that those from P4 to P5 are ready for more information.
In upper primary, one should give them more information, seeing as they are already learning about reproductive health. Tell them the consequences of such practices like HIV, pregnancies and also tell them the appropriate time in life to engage in sex.
Before you can balk at his advice, Wanzala asks how parents would respond if they realised that their children had been fed on the wrong information about sex. Hope Nabukenya, the director of Safety First Child Institute, an organisation that trains children and adults about child sexual abuse, agrees with Wanzala in saying that talking about sex education depends on how you are bring it out.
Dressing up decently is another thing you can teach at a young age.
“It is easier for a child to keep up a habit when they learn it as a child,” she adds. “Helping them know it is alright to come to you when they are afraid, helps build a stronger relationship with the parents.”
She notes that in some cases, sexual abuse starts in children at an early age, and appreciating a child’s language and mannerisms is important.
“This is because your child could be facing abuse but doesn’t know it is abuse because they are ignorant about sex. In some instances when they are young and there is probably no penetration, they may not mind the abuse until they are older,” she explains. “By the time they realise what has been happening to them, they are traumatised and may hate themselves for the rest of their lives.”
Hope believes that empowering children with knowledge is very essential, as it may actually save your child from child sexual abuse. A Kampala parent, who declined to be named, believes that there is a need to go back to traditional methods of teaching sex education, where children were initiated at the age of 12 years, in some cases.
He cites the traditions of western Uganda and Buganda, where teenagers would be told about sex, shortly before getting married.
“Between age of 15 and 18, one would have an idea but would get a clear picture only when they are getting married,” he said. However, he concedes that today’s generation of children are exposed to a lot of sexual content at an early age.
To support the strategies suggested by Wanzala, Kelle and others, the education ministry is setting up a handbook, to be used in primary schools in the country. The handbook details measures that teachers and parents can use to introduce sex education to children, starting in P4 (usually from the age of nine onwards).
According to the assistant commissioner for Private Schools, Ismael Mulindwa, the handbook is the result of extensive consultation due to the many issues coming up with sexuality education among parents and teachers.
Mulindwa, who is also in charge of Health/HIV in schools, explained that they were concerned about reports of some civil society organisations circulating material in schools on homosexuality, without authorisation from the ministry.
“What we are doing as a ministry is to guide these people on how they go to the schools and the packages they give children. We have not yet penalised any individuals on that issue but our principle is simple.”
He said the ministry was determined to ensure that whatever message goes to schools is age-appropriate.
“The messages must be culturally and religiously sensitive. If the messages do not address any of the three, then they cannot be supplied in schools,” he said.
“I cannot give a time frame when the framework [handbook] will be ready because we are now doing consultations with quite a number of stakeholders … they include the faith-based organisations, traditional and cultural institutions, among others.”
However, as the discussions continue schools are now banned from holding sex education until the framework is ready.