Child sexual abuse victims: abused and neglected.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It was several years ago. I was waiting outside the door to our house waiting for my young daughter to be ready for school. I was considering the route to school that we'd have to take to keep my feet dry as I push my bicycle through the mud-puddled streets when a friend tapped my shoulder and began to tell me about the hot topic of the day. A couple of Maldivian teachers had been caught sexually abusing young girls in their private tuition sessions. To my horror one of them was my daughters teacher; Naseem sir! I was so horrified that I told my wife that our daughter was not going to school for a few days till we could be sure that our daughter was not a victim herself.

There was no help offered either by the school or any organisation to kids like my daughter, to see if they had suffered themselves. No assessment of counseling to help them get over the trauma of listening to stories of their best-friends having been made to do disgusting things by their teachers!

I took my daughter to Central Hospital to get help for her. I thought she needed more than the support we could offer ourselves. I had real fear that my daughet might have been a victim. She had been behaving very differently lately. She easily cried about things that happened at home, she stayed unusually quiet for her usual self, she ate much too little for her mothers liking and she had stopped socialising with her friends. But most frightening of all she had started to make a fuss about having to go to school. All that just a few weeks before the news of Naseem sir and his accomplice's sickening stories became public.

At the hospital there really wasn't anyone to help us. Dr Mohamed Ahmed's name was mentioned to us. We took our daughter to his clinic which used to be house at his residence just across the street from the hospital. He wasn't particularly helpful. He asked us to give our daughter a coupleof pills, something to relieve the "transient depressive mood". It probably didn't help, but we followed his instructions carefully. It was years later with our daughter preparing for her O'L exams when she confided in her mother that she was "touched" by her teacher! To our horror, by then the scum-bag was backin Male' and nearly freely going about his life; Our daughters life destroyed by an experience that would almost certainly scar her for life.

It is worrying that the number of reported cases of child sexual abuse in Maldives has been in the rise in recent years. The past few years have seen horrific tales of sexual assault on children of either gender; especially at the hands of those people who are entrusted with their welfare.

I will not be discussing the different cases, why it is on the rise or why the punishment for such terrible crimes is so meager. That needs to be discussed and is one important area of social protection of child welfare that is neglected in Maldives. What I will be touching on, and hoping to open a discussion, is the lack of proper assessment and support mechanisms within our medical services to help those who have been victims of these grave crimes.

The situation has indeed improved since the times of my daughter. A child welfare service is now established at the ministerial level at Gender ministry, child protection services are being decentralised to the atolls, IGMH has established a Family Protection Unit to help improve identification, reporting and early case management and an improvement in the public's  understanding of the need to report and seek help.

All that said, our children are still not recieving adequate care and treatment to get over the effects of these atrocities committed against them. Many of these kids are never counselled at all. Their families are not taught about the danger signs that need to be looked for and certainly little if any is done to help kids get back to "being kids" again!

My daughters friend who were subjected to the most severe abuse lost their way in school, were unable to integrate into society and became social outcasts themselves. Atleast one of them has significant criminal records; especially linked to sexual criminal conduct.

I would be the first to agree that even with the best treatment and care a few children may never return to "normal" childhood, but with little or nothing done the chances are that our unfortunate kids are further "abused" by a system reluctant to invest in proper care for kids under going such traumatic and forever scarring experience.

The carers currently working in the field are too young themselves, having little more than a year of work experience (within our severely inadequate system) with no professional medical or pscychological or psychiatric assistance or supervision. Fair enough, a psychologist has recently started clinical work at IGMH and a couple of Psychiatrists do lend their support to the management, but their involvement is insufficient. More than that, their skills and training don't necessarily give them the required skills to acually work in this very sensitive area. There isn't a single child psychiatrist in the country!

There are many areas of need in our health system. Building and expanding ICUs, improving health care provision in the atolls etc...are all improtant and perhaps even high on the priority list. But with the current trend of increasing child abuse and other forms of domestic violence isn;t it time that we get better help available for our kids who do fall prey to Paedophiles in regaining their childhood innocense and providing them a way back to a life that is not scarred?


Maldiveshealth said...

perhaps establishing a good mental health system?