TOPICS: The vicious cycle of child sex abuse

What with the bungling of Iraq war, a nosedive in approval ratings of George W Bush, money laundering scandals and an increasingly polarised economy, the Democrats could well have done without the latest addition to their ammo against the war-weary Republicans: the Mark Foley flare-up. But coming on the eve of the November State-level polls, they will gobble it up.

The Republican Congressman from Florida, now 52, had to put in his papers last month after his sexually explicit e-mails to his former pages surfaced. Last Thursday, the scandal took a new turn when Anthony Merieca, 69, a Catholic priest in Malta, admitted having sexually “inappropriate” relationship with Foley back in 1967 when the former Congressman was just 13 (Foley had admitted being molested as a boy by a “clergyman” early this month). This episode is a perfect example of the vicious cycle set in motion by sex abuse at an early age; many abused children morph into child sex offenders themselves. The impact of molestation on young minds can be devastating. The abused children have little self-esteem, are deeply mistrustful of adults, often harbour suicidal tendencies, and develop grossly distorted views on sex. Their communication skills are poor; and delinquency among this group high.

In Nepal, as elsewhere, the incidents of child sex abuse are on the rise. According to a UN Study on Violence Against Children published early this month, out of 3,960 children surveyed in the districts of Surkhet, Kaski, Chitwan and Morang, 1,327 (or 33 per cent) admitted experiencing some form of sexual violence or exploitation: while 35.8 per cent of the boys were abused, the figure for the girls stood at 31.1 per cent. Nine per cent reported explicit sexual contact. In another study of Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN) conducted in the Kathmandu Valley, 45 per cent children surveyed were found to have experienced some form of sex abuse, ranging from exposure to obscene language and sexual contents to fondling and penetrative sex. Around 14 per cent reported inappropriate physical contact. As per the survey, children in the 11-14 age group were the most vulnerable to molestation; nevertheless, 12.3 per cent of those below 11 reported a ‘contact’ form of sexual abuse.

Very few child sex abuse cases come out in the open. While the children are fearful of the consequences of exposing the abuser, who is, most often, either a relative, a neighbour or an acquaintance; the parents, too, seldom push for legal action for the fear of social disapproval. This not only threatens to tear down our social fabric, but by crippling the nation’s young minds, also poses a serious challenge to the nation’s already fledgling economy.

Foley is only the tip of the iceberg of an insidious practice taking root the world over. It indeed reflects a sad state of affairs when even a US Congressman needs to be cornered for good before admitting to being a victim of this self-perpetuating chain of events.