"Voices being raised against baby rape"

By Charlene Smith

Article in Sunday Independent.  March 27th 2005 [1]

 Reproduced by kind permission of the author

 'What a stupid belief. You rape a child believing you will be healed; what madness is this?' - Kenneth Kaunda

Princess Moonbeam has her thumb in her mouth and a hand curled around a white baby blanket as the story ends: "... and she knew that everyone loves her". She beams and claps her hands, clearly accepting the ending as an affirmation of her own self-worth.

Three years ago, when five-month-old Princess Moonbeam (her nickname) was taken into safe care, the woman who would adopt her took her from Johannesburg Hospital. Her body bore the marks of a raped baby: colostomy bags collecting her faeces and urine; wounds to her vagina and anus still pink but healing; a surgeon's deft stitches reconstructing the perineum; her skin scaly from a lack of regular cleaning or adequate nutrition from her birth mother.

The concept of baby rape is so grotesque that most turn from it. African-American academic Claudia Ford, who adopted Princess Moonbeam, writes in her new book, Why do I Scream at God for the Rape of Babies?

(North Atlantic Books, due for release in South Africa at the end of March): "Our inability to protect her from this heinous crime was our collective failure as adults to protect our children. How did we let this happen?" The "our" and the "we" she speaks of is "us" - "us" as the collective family of humankind; "us" as South African society.

She recalls: "My first thought was what darkness will hang over this child because of this evil. I call her Princess Moonbeam because the first time I saw her, a light seemed to come from the crib and from her." Ford is now active in combating child rape, and 51 percent of the proceeds of the book will go to the Princess Moonbeam Trust to fight the violation of children.

Some would rather she lied to her daughter about what happened to her. "I accept their concern... But they are wrong. My daughter is not to blame for what happened to her. There is no shame, no stain on her soul, no scarlet letter that she must pin to her chest ... this horrid crime is not who she is, it is just a thread in the tapestry of her unfinished story."

Ford's book is lyrical. She describes it as a love letter to her beautiful daughter, who she describes as "vibrant, fearless, charismatic... (who) mesmerises us with her dancing, singing and free-spirited independence".

The silence around baby rape is cautiously being beaten back. Tshepang, a play running at the Market Theatre, written by Lara Foot Newton, has received excellent reviews and is also quietly uplifting and thought-provoking.

Ford and Foot Newton are saying "Don't just get mad, do something".

Princess Moonbeam is a long way from the Action (porn) Cinema in downtown Johannesburg, which more than three decades ago was the first cinema and shopping complex in the country.

Weeks after Princess Moonbeam was raped, I visited the Action Cinema. The slum landlord had constructed cubicles on the steps of the main cinema, big enough to hold a single concrete bed and nothing else.

Walls did not go to the ceiling, which enabled a self-appointed "security guard" at the complex called Sibusiso (surname withheld) to lift himself up and see into the room where Princess's sexworker mother had left the baby with a man later acquitted of the rape (with his alleged accomplice) because the chemicals in the disposable nappy placed on Princess Moonbeam after the rape destroyed the semen, and thus proof of who raped her.

A legless man called Anton, who lived in the room next door, said he would sometimes "hit the baby because the mother left her alone, sometimes all night, and she would cry too much".

The rooms in the Action Cinema where Princess Moonbeam was raped are now filled with rubble, and the porn cinemas ply a desultory trade, but in the back rooms of the complex, people live in appalling conditions.

During a visit to the complex with Ford and Superintendent Andre Neethling, who heads Gauteng's sexual offences units, we entered by a side door and made "stepping stones" of junk to avoid stepping into at least 15cm of sewage and waste water before climbing rickety steel stairs in the pitch dark, police officers with their rifles cocked.

At each level were the detritus of South Africa. Some had burrowed holes into walls to get in or out and to obtain light and air. People lived in small rooms with illegal electrical and water connections and claimed they paid landlords R300 a month; 16-year-old prostitutes picked their teeth and grubby children followed us.

There is controversy about baby rape in South Africa. Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala, an anthropologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, notes that "according to the virgin cleansing myth (in southern Africa), a man can 'cleanse' his blood of HIV/Aids through intercourse with a virgin... The vaginal passage is seen as being 'sealed off' by the intact hymen ... viewed as a barrier that prevented HIV from getting into the girl's womb and thus her 'blood' ..."

A survey early in 2002 among automobile workers in Pretoria, by the University of South Africa, found that 18 percent believed the virgin myth.

In August 2000 the SA Medical Research Council reported that "the belief that having sex with a virgin can cleanse a man of HIV has wide currency in sub-Saharan Africa. In sexual health-promotion workshops in South Africa a third of participants indicated that they believed this to be true".

The Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town released nine years of research in December 2002 that showed the most common age at which children were admitted after being sexually violated was three.

In October 2004 the British Medical Journal released a report by South African research group CIET, which reported young South Africans as saying that raping "someone you know" was not sexual violence.

The study was based on a survey of some 300 000 children, aged between 10 and 19, in 1 418 South African schools. More than a quarter said "girls enjoy rape". Many children who had been sexually abused believed sex with a virgin could cure HIV.

BBC's Focus on Africa reported in its April 2003 edition on a Human Rights Watch report titled Suffering in Silence, which reported widespread "rape of young girls, including babies. Few politicians have spoken out against the 'cleansing crime', but Kenneth Kaunda, the founding father of Zambia, has broken the taboo".

Kaunda said: "Some people believe that a man who is suffering from HIV and Aids can rape a child, six months old, one year old, whatever, and he'll be cured. What a stupid belief. You rape a child believing you will be healed by this; what madness is this?"

Leclerc-Madlala suggests that "in times of desperation, myths (and the behaviours they inform) are more likely to come to the fore as people frantically search for answers ... is it surprising what some people would be willing to try as a possible cure"?

The rape of nine-month-old baby Tshepang in November 2001 alerted South Africans to the problem. In March 2002 police arrested
23-year-old David Potse, a former boyfriend of Tshepang's mother.

On the day he was arrested, Tshepang was undergoing her seventh reconstructive procedure at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town. She has, in all, had 12 operations. Potse received a life sentence.

Dr Sebastian van As of the Red Cross Children's Hospital wrote in the SA Medical Journal that long-term physical consequences of sexual assault in small children include dysuria (pain when a child passes urine, which leads to the child becoming frightened to urinate); temporary urinary incontinence (urine leaks out); perineal infection (an abscess or wound at the perineum that resists healing); and ecopresis (when the child is unable to keep the stool in).

The perineum gets ripped in raped infants and the vagina and anus become a single wound. "If the rupture extends into the abdomen, the children develop peritonitis and die within a day."

Ford writes of her battles with her infant's colostomy bag (which she no longer needs): "No one can understand how difficult it is to get a crawling baby to stay still to change a colostomy bag. Unlike poopy diapers, the faeces in the bag are still very alkaline and leave horrid raw burns on sensitive baby skin if leaks are not cleaned immediately."

Police and social workers say an infant is often at risk of rape when there is a failure in mindful parenting.

Ford quotes psychoanalyst Lloyd de Mause: "When mothers love and support, particularly their daughters, a series of generations can develop new child-rearing practices that grow completely new ... behavioural traits."

Ford, the mother of three grown boys, adds: "Given that traits of masculinity show more stubborn resistance to change, I would extend this to love and support of our sons."



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With the Infant Trust Lesley has empowered thousands of women across South Africa to protect and safeguard children in their communities. The education and training she has provided has helped to improve the lives of over 800,000 children, tackling the violence and abuse that affects too many of them in their early years. As we mark International Women’s Day this week I am delighted to recognise all that Lesley has done.”
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