Child sex abuse cases alarm Fiji doctor
As the UN marks 16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence, a doctor in Fiji says there's an alarming increased rate of child sex offences.
A doctor in Fiji says there's an alarming increased rate of child sex offences.
Dr Reati Mataika is a paediatrician at the Colonial War Memorial hospital in Suva and also works with the Ministry of Health on child protection.
As the UN marks its 16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence, Alex Perrottet asked her about child sexual abuse, what could be driving it and what is being done to combat it.
REATI MATAIKA: Just in the last I would say three to four years the numbers that we've been seeing has been really concerning for us. We could see one every other week or even two to three cases a week which is, you know, that's actually a big change that we've noticed in the past few years. We've identified child protection as one of the priority areas for us now and we're trying to up-skill our doctors all over Fiji to be able to handle a child who comes in sexually abused. We are having younger victims and two of our victims actually had the misfortune of actually contracting HIV through being sexually abused as children. So it's quite a real concern for us.
ALEX PERROTTET: It must be very difficult when someone is presenting to the hospital, I mean what's the scenario because a lot of these people are being abused in the home, how do they get from home to the hospital to report that something's gone wrong? Particularly the ones that are very young, is there someone else in the family that brings them to the hospital?
RM: Yes we've had a few scenarios that usually present to us. One is the mum that's concerned about the little girl complaining about pain in that area and on further questioning usually says that it's.. you know the perpetrators are known to these children, it's usually the grandfather or the step-father or the uncle, the cousin, so yes that's how they usually present to us, the family members, the child discloses accidentally in passing and so they pick it up and they bring them to the hospital. Usually they present to the police and then the police usually bring them to us and then we have to do the medical examination and fill in the reports and all that. And actually the child is taken through another, I would say, another sort of abuse again of being through the system and having to go through the examination and the history and all the things that we take them through. But that's usually the process with the police accompanying them to us. We've had a few really severe cases where the child is actually not only sexually abused but beaten up and then you know brought into us semi-conscious. So we've had two really big cases like that. Fortunately they both survived but then you know unfortunately they will both have complications and problems associated with being abused at such a young age.
AP: You mentioned cousins or grandfathers or step-fathers, are there those different family structures more vulnerable to cases of child abuse?
RM: Yes I would say a major thing for us in the last two to three years there has been a really big rural to urban drift so a lot of these families have actually settled in the urban areas. And they're living with extended families and they're having to struggle and the parents have to work so the kids are in the care of extended family. Either that or the broken families, and when you ask these questions you see that these children are actually more vulnerable to getting abused because of the circumstances surrounding their safety, where they are, who looks after them. We're seeing that with the rural to urban drift happening here and also because of the family breakdown in our community. But a big issue is also, you know a lot of these cases, and it's sad, a number of them have come up and when they come up, they've actually shown the abuse to have been happening over the past two to three years. So you ask the question, why hasn't the mum noticed these things happening, especially with the step-father or the grandfather. And then when you ask about family dynamics and things you know the mother is often quite not as vocal, not as forthcoming. You can see also that at times mum is the victim in a lot of these situations also so with domestic violence also is part of things that usually occur in this family. And then it highlights the issue of family, the unit of the parents and the child being so important, for good parenting skills, you know that's one area we are actually looking into improving now. For Fiji we're quite good because we now have the NCCC, which is the National Coordinating Commission for Children that's made up of all the government ministries in Fiji and some NGOs that look after child issues, so we're able together to combat this problem from our different areas. Alex I also want to bring up this important point that we're seeing in the last one or two years that we're having a lot more of juvenile offenders who are actually committing sexual acts. So for us that's also a big area and so for our juvenile bureau and the police they've also identified and seen that. So it's sort of a reflection, so you ask, and I always ask the question, are these juvenile offenders, they would have also been victims, you know, to be able to do this to other kids. So it's just a vicious cycle that's happening and becoming pronounced now because of the way things are in this country at the moment.
AP: Looking at the causes, you were saying they're about the family breakdown and all sorts of extended family being around the home and the fact that child abuse is often coupled with partner abuse, often against the woman. Is there an effort to talk about the males in the family, are we looking at ways we can get awareness out there of strong male role models for young men?
RM: Yes, that's exactly, that's one area that the NCCC is looking into in trying to nurture up good fathers for tomorrow, and looking at ways of doing that and going in at the high school level. The police have this good programme with youths in school. And looking at how they can become good upstanding men in our society, trying to get them to become good fathers. So that's actually something that we've all identified with and with all the programmes, even with the white ribbon programme, it all talks about the father to become the centre or the base or the solid foundation for the family.
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