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Thu,23Nov2017

Posted on Friday, 12 October 2012 19:06

Last word: Rape is not an African problem

 LOLA SHONEYIN/PHOTO©ALL RIGHTS RESERVEDI've just finished reading Gypsy Boy – an autobiographical work by Mikey Walsh where he documents harrowing childhood experiences.

In this vivid and moving account of his formative years as a Romany gypsy, he describes the sexual abuse he suffered at six years old when he was repeatedly raped by his own uncle.

Reading such a book reawakened my anger about sexual abuse in Africa, in particular my country Nigeria.

Rape itself is not an African problem; it is a human menace. However, in Africa, the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

Families are all too interested in protecting themselves from shame, leaving the victims to deal with the trauma or, worse, blaming them for their misfortune.

I cannot but admire Mikey Walsh's openness.

Though he uses a pseudonym and hides his face in photographs, every interview carries the risk of exposing him to members of his former community. For any society, there are valuable lessons to be learnt from his book.

child pornography is making its way into the African landscape

Not too long ago, a very bright friend of mine attempted suicide in an Abuja hotel room.

Months before, I had made an appointment for him with a psychologist but he didn't attend. It was too hard, he said, too complex to talk about all that personal stuff to a stranger.

"That personal stuff" has to do with his aunt forcing him to perform oral sex on her when he was six years old, even bringing her friends round, until another family member walked in on them.

It is only in areas of conflict that victims discuss their ordeal, perhaps because employing rape and sexual terrorism as a key tool in thwarting the enemy does not come as a surprise.

But Africa has not deemed it necessary to protect its women or its children. In Africa, generation after generation, the same mistakes are repeated because we prefer to plaster over these atrocities or justify them with unhelpful traditional beliefs.

A few months ago, a friend of mine sent me a link via Black-Berry messenger that promised to make me "weep for Nigeria".

The link took me to a video of a four-year-old boy having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

I made up my mind not to watch it, but scrolled down to the comments.

The Jesus Brigade were quick to ascribe the behaviour of the children to demons and satanic influences.

The chauvinists blamed the mothers who were too busy chasing careers to watch over their children.

A handful of people called for the girl's head, saying she was corrupting the young boy with her "sexpertise".

Only once did someone demonstrate an understanding of the real problem: child pornography is making its way into the African landscape where it is unlikely to be checked or investigated by the police.

This web of silence that allows child abuse and pornography to continue indicts those in authority.

If not their consciences then perhaps the future will hold them accountable. When is Africa going to have the courage to stand up and say "Enough!"? ●

Lola Shoneyin is a Nigerian poet and author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives. She has been nominated for the 2012 NLNG Prize for Literature.



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