Sexual abuse and Exploitation

“Sexual abuse is the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature - including inappropriate touching - by force or under unequal or coercive conditions ”. Evidence of sexual abuse and violence against children in Malawi is focusing on cases of incest and abuses that are widely reported in families and communities. Children are sexually abused by members of their family or extended family, by family friends, neighbours and caregivers.

Sexual violence in schools is also increasingly reported . Teachers use their privileged status while classmates use gender discrimination and peer pressure as a way to get sex in exchange for material benefits, examination favours and academic favours such as helping in difficult subjects. Rape and sexual harassment have been reportedly perpetrated and regarded as one of the reasons for girls’ low academic performance, erratic attendance and high drop-out rate .

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is defined as “children under 18 years, both male and female, engaging in sexual activity for money, profit or any other consideration due to coercion or influence by any adult, syndicate or group. Sexual exploitation is distinguished from sexual abuse by the fact that some financial or material profit/benefit is achieved by some party to that sexual activity” .

In an environment of increasing family poverty, limited educational opportunities, traditional cultural practices such as property dispossession and almost non-existent legislation, children are often expected to help and support the family financially. This is particularly true for girls, whose position within the families and within the communities is less valued by the Malawian society.

Lack of knowledge on what awaits working children and indifference on the children’s well-being compounded by dire poverty, lead the families to send their children directly into exploitative and hazardous labour and, ultimately, commercial sex.

Children’s sexual exploitation in Malawi takes the form of child prostitution in communities, larger cities and towns where tourism takes place as well as the rural areas of the country . Young girls are sexually exploited within communities for commodities such as food and clothing, especially in situation of economic instability. Child prostitution is evident in the main cities of Malawi and occurs outside nightclubs and hotels where sex exploiters are local men .

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