Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents: Until When?

Posted on 06/06/2022 06:00

By Ruth Lima – NGO World Vision Pedagogue and Field Operations Manager

I am starting this article with a worrying information. In the first four months of last year, the National Human Rights Ombudsman (ONDH) – the federal agency responsible for dialing 100 and 180 – filed 22,000 complaints of violence against children and adolescents. Of these, exactly 4,07 are related to sexual abuse and exploitation.

It is worth remembering that this was still a time of high events for Kovid-19, which was reflected in a scene of greater social isolation. In most parts of Brazil, for example, schools were closed as a sanitary measure to control the epidemic, which ultimately prevented them from reaching out to and supporting victims.

A year later, the numbers are staggering. During the same period of 2022, the total number of complaints against children and adolescents registered by ONDH increased by 30.9%, reaching 30,000 cases, of which 4,518 reported sexual violence.

The first conclusion is obvious: we are failing to protect our childhood and youth from the dangers around them, in particular, abuse and sexual exploitation. The number of ombudsmen means that three children are sexually abused every two hours in Brazil.

And that’s because we’re only considering official data – when we know, in fact, there’s a lot more under-reporting. Studies by several authors have shown that only 10% of such violations have been reported to defense agencies.

Under-reporting is, in most cases, the cause of the crime, most of the time, inside the home where the child or adolescent lives. Therefore, it takes place from a cultural perspective and from the agreement of silence established by the attacker with the victim – and usually extends to the family.

The second conclusion is less obvious, but just as annoying. As the epidemic in the country cools down and social normalization returns, children and adolescents are seen more often and in private in welcoming places like schools and with them, we may have an unprecedented increase in statistics throughout 2022 – a high percentage of notifications. The result.

But that’s not all bad news. Above all, the worrying numbers force us to make urgent decisions. The huge increase in the number of complaints – especially when all forms of violence against children and adolescents are considered – is also a sign that we are making progress in bringing this issue to light. Reducing under-reporting necessarily means dealing with an increase in official records. And this will be possible only when people’s knowledge and awareness about the subject increases.

Child sexual abuse and exploitation unfortunately has many facets to our social structure. One of them, more profound and original, is the physical and emotional trauma that is inflicted on its victims, who seldom compromise their ability to connect and build relationships in society even as adults.

Another manifestation of this violence is seen in the normalization of child marriage and early pregnancy. These are usually the result of sexual violence against children and adolescents, often by adults, and especially in rural and peripheral areas. However, those that need to be built for cultural reasons are accepted in Brazil, especially when the victims are 14 years of age or older, although young children are also part of the statistics.

Therefore, in this election year, we need to take this opportunity to remind future rulers and legislators that those who will not vote must listen. Today, Brazil has a broad legal framework for the protection of children and adolescents, but we still sin to ensure these rights.

Any form of violence against children and youth, especially sexual violence, is a crime and should be condemned as such. More than that, however, such cases also need to be properly investigated, treated and referred, so that the victims do not suffer any misfortune that could negatively affect their growth or lead to death. We need to work to transform society into a more just place.


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