By Jessie Ngoma-Simengwa –
SEXUAL behaviour in children is a healthy part of development.
If children behave in certain ways often and keep doing the same things even when asked to stop, it is important as a parent that you treat the matter with seriousness or seek help.
Adolescence is a critical period in which sexual activity begins as sexual behaviour is subject to a number of influences, such as peers and social media pornography.
Children may behave in a way that is problematic and harmful for many reasons and as their caretakers, we need to monitor any signs of sexual behaviour exhibited by them as this may be a sign of something more serious.
We cannot sit back and allow children to continue to abuse their fellow children in schools and communities where they come from.
This is because letting such behaviour go unchecked can make some child sex offenders turn into adult predators.
Child on child sexual abuse (COCSA) is a sexual activity between persons under the age of 18.
It occurs without consent, without equality or as a result of coercion.
What this means is that a power difference exists between the two children, whether that is in age, size, or ability.
Confirmed studies show how sexual abuse in children damages their mental wellbeing.
Therefore, it is important that we ensure that children have the safest future we can offer them.
Last week, we discussed the importance of parents teaching children about sex.
Today, we discuss how we can prevent children becoming victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse by their fellow children and those older than them.
In the last few months, social media in Zambia has been rife with many stories about child sexual abuse committed by children against other children in some named schools and also among some children in some communities.
The specter of child sexual abuse is frightening to parents.
It has created so much negative views about children being sent to boarding schools while some parents are generally stopping their children from interacting with others.
Notably, child on child sexual abuse does not happen by chance, but usually, there is behaviour on the part of the perpetrators that triggers the act.
Children who initiate or engage in sexual acts with other children most often have been sexually victimised by an adult before or by another child who was in turn abused by an adult.
Understanding children involved in such incidents is critical to effective prevention and intervention as it is a real threat to any nation’s health and wellbeing.
Older child perpetrators of sexual abuse can entice younger children with sweets and gifts and instill fear in them when they decline their sexual advances.
Children must be given the assurance that they can and must share any concerns and not keep secrets that have been fostered by threats, coercion or persuasion of some kind.
Beginning to talk with children while they are young is important to help them understand issues and risks that may occur in later years.
As a parent, you can start by talking to children about touching that is good compared to the kind that is bad and communicate with your child that if someone tries to touch his or her body and do things that make the child feel uncomfortable, he or she should say no and tell you about it right away.
In doing so, this will empower you to reduce the risk of your child being sexually abused or engaging in illicit child sexual activities.
The Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in Zambia is one platform that teaches children about sexuality, but focuses on puberty, HIV prevention, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, relationships and human rights.
Its overall goal is for adolescents and young people to learn more about better sexual and reproductive health and have better health outcomes.
However, the focus should be more on better education in this area from an early age without attaching the cultural norms that stop us discussing issues related to sex.
If we are to address the impact of sexual abuse in our communities, the importance of prevention and promotion of sexual health teaching from an early age and how to identify possible situations or intentions of abuse should be part of our teachings in schools, church groups and in our homes.
For instance, we need to involve everybody in the community, from individuals to leaders at national level as key stakeholders.
Teachers should help us from primary, secondary and tertiary education level.
As caretakers, we must provide children with the information and skills necessary to cope with attempted abuse.
For example, teachers and parents must be frank and discuss the issue in a way that both heightens awareness and reduces fear in children.
Ultimately, the conversation and environment must create a platform where children will be able to ask questions and feel secure about sharing on sensitive topics.
Respecting elders in Africa has been an emphasis for children growing up as this is ingrained in our culture.
Let children know that respect does not always mean that they must follow wrong actions by those older than them.
Instead, they should report and share what they feel is uncomfortable with another person.
Similarly, for adolescents who have access to phones and other social media devices, their parents must alert them that perpetrators may use the Internet and monitor their access to online platforms.
Children play groups according to age, with similar habits and interests in neighbourhoods and schools have always been common.
But as caretakers, it is important to help children set boundaries and pay attention when you feel that other adults are crossing boundaries with the children.
Experts, too, observe that parents focus on strangers, but sexual violence cases show that most children are abused by someone they know and trust, including family members.
As we talk about abuse with children, let us continue to be alert as communities and remember that very few allegations of child sexual abuse are false.
Therefore, if a child discloses any abuse taking place in school and at home, let us be alert and know the mandated laws in our community.
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