When dad becomes a monster

Sex education should be hinged on mother-daughter bonding. Photo/PHOTOS.COM

Sex education should be hinged on mother-daughter bonding. Photo/PHOTOS.COM

By DOROTHY KWEYU
Daily Nation, Posted Tuesday, May 11 2010 at 14:21

A 14-year-old Standard Eight girl from an upmarket primary school in Nairobi is at large after she was sexually abused by her father.

The man, who was freed on bail after the matter was reported to Kilimani Police Station, is yet to be charged in court.

While the whereabouts of the girl, whose future appears ruined, is beyond the scope of this column, a counsellor from Cradle – The Children’s Foundation, who has been swamped with such cases, is now warning mothers of the need to protect their daughters from their predatory fathers.

The terse but disturbing message Margaret Mbusiro wants mothers to drill into girls their daughters, is: “Even Daddy can do it to you!”

As a counsellor with Kenya’s first children’s legal aid clinic that was created in 1999, Mbusiro constantly interacts with sexually abused children.

She does not mince words on the importance of sex education, which should be hinged on mother-daughter bonding.

But even before mothers can teach their daughters to be wary of their fathers, Mbusiro describes women’s naiveté — that the husbands they love and trust could not possibly molest their child — as the greatest danger facing girls.

Her dossier on abusive fathers reads like a file from hell. While it is tempting to dismiss incest as perpetrated by a few rogue fathers, a single child going through the trauma of incest is one too many.

Mbusiro’s few examples will suffice: Recently, a man was convicted for sexually abusing his eight-year-old daughter.

The family lived in a single room, and whenever the mother went to kesha (overnight prayers), the father defiled the girl and threatened to kill her and her mother if she reported the incident.

The child was saved by a measles attack when, on applying ointment to her body, the mother noticed her unusually wide vaginal opening. The scared child opened up to an aunt, leading to prosecution and jailing of the father.

In another case, also of an eight-year-old, the mother discovered the abuse from the child’s awkward walk.

Yet another case involved a Form Three girl and her stepfather. Although the abuse started early, it’s only when she got to Form Three that she decided to say ‘No!’ But the man, who was paying the girl’s fees at a high cost national school, warned her: “You accept or leave my house!”

Although Cradle was ready to shelter the girl, she was torn between ruining her mother’s second marriage and her own welfare. She ran away from the shelter and bungled the case.

Biological and stepfathers take advantage of their wives’ absence to sexually abuse their children. So, should women be stuck at home to protect girls from their own fathers?

No, says Mbusiro, who attributes most incest to mothers’ distance from their children. “There is a communication gap between mother and child,” she says.

Even where mothers and daughters relate, mothers’ sheer naiveté is a problem. “When girls try to report, mothers are generally shocked and don’t believe it.”

Mothers who report such cases face dire consequences, like the one whose in-laws chased her away, saying: “This is a matter we could have settled at home. Why did you go to police?”

Another mother screamed when the child reported the abuse, and another told Mbusiro, “I beat her until my hands were tired”.

The counsellor’s advice to mothers is:

• Believe the child: Asking “Are you sure?” victimises her and makes her doubt whether she should have reported, leaving her with nowhere to turn to.

• Be calm: Expressing shock by screaming or beating the child makes her feel guilty for causing Mum so much pain. She won’t tell what exactly happened — prerequisites to seeking medical and legal aid.

• Reassurance: Tell the child it’s not her fault, and that you will help her.

• Seek counselling: A professional counsellor can detect the child’s emotions, ranging from guilt, fear, shame, discrimination by peers and low self-esteem, and help her through each one. Counselling helps the child come to terms with the loss of her innocence, forgive the abuser, and seek justice.

• Discuss sex: Tell the child that “even dad can do it to you’. Because abusive fathers are initially very friendly, warn your daughter about their overtures. Tell her that such moves are wrong, and she should tell you as soon as they are made.

• Use the appropriate language: Teach your child the organs involved in sex because “Alinifanyia tabia mbaya” (he did something bad to me) is considered vague language in court.

Teach them that nobody — dad, uncle, teacher — should touch certain parts of their body.

According to Mbusiro, sex education should start with the mother. Although teachers have taken the flak over child sexual molestation, “The evil is now with parents”.

You cannot sit with your daughter round the clock, but you can teach her to avoid being sexually abused.

“If they know you’ll help them should they be abused, they will be open with you. Unless you make it clear that you will always stand by them, children will be afraid of causing Mum pain,” she explains.

dkweyu@ke.nationmedia.com

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