The sensitive case: sexual assault of children in the Kurdistan Region

29-04-2021 04:39

PEREGRAF – Ghamgin Muhammed

After returning from school one day, 10-year-old Shania went over to a classmate’s house. That’s where the classmate’s father sexually assaulted her. The perpetrator told her that he was going to teach them something, so she went into the house without hesitation.

Speaking to PEREGRAF about the incident, Shania’s mother cried as she talked about her daughter, who has changed from being happy and outgoing to depressed and withdrawn, spending days in her room afraid to interact with people.

After an investigation, the perpetrator was arrested and confessed to his crime.

Although the court has not yet ruled on the case, Shania’s mother said: "Only his execution will satisfy my heart. He not only ruined my little girl’s life, but destroyed my whole family.

Sexual assault and sexual abuse of children, both girls and boys under the age of 18, takes advantage of their youth, innocence, and vulnerability and is considered one of the most sensitive cases within a community.

"In comparison with previous years, the number of children brought to us for sexual assault [examinations] has increased. Most of them are between the ages of six and 12-years-old, Delman Azad, a forensic doctor with 13 years of experience, told PEREGRAF.

Any case of sexual assault should be dealt with promptly, with survivors taken to the forensic medicine department as soon as possible for a medical examination.

"In order not to lose trace evidence from a child’s body, they must be brought to forensic medicine within 24 hours for examination", said Azad.

Only a small number of cases of sexual assault against children are reported in the media, so the public is mostly unaware of the extent to which the phenomenon occurs. Part of this is due to cultural sensitivities in the Kurdistan Region.

Spokesperson for the Sulaimaniyah Police Directorate Sarkawt Ahmed told PEREGRAF that, once the police receives a complaint about rape or sexual assault, the police work to arrest the perpetrator and bring them in front of a judge.

According to the Iraqi Penal Code, anyone who commits sexual assault against a child of either sex, regardless of whether there has been apparent consent, will be sentenced to life in prison.

The severity of punishment can depend on if the victim is or a person in a position of trust, like a doctor, therapist, public servant, or religious figure, it can include the death penalty. Added-on fines can run between 35 million and 50 million Iraqi dinars ($24,000 to $34,000).

If the perpetrator is also under 18-years-old, the case will be handled by a juvenile court, with a possible punishment of 15 years in prison, lawyer Rozhgar Ibrahim told PEREGRAF.

Ibrahim said that if someone is convicted of sexual assault of a child and they are a close relative of the victim, up to an uncle, aunt, or cousin, then the penalty is death without the possibility of a pardon.

Many children who survive sexual assault and abuse experience depression, fear, and shame and need psychological treatment.

"Sexual abuse leaves permanent scars on a child’s psyche. Instead of covering it up, it requires treatment", psychologist Daniel Saadi told PEREGRAF.

He said that he sees the consequences in adults who come to his clinic for treatment for depression and anxiety. Regularly, it becomes apparent after a few meetings that they have suffered sexual abuse as a child, which went unaddressed either out of fear of their abuser or because their family wanted to hide it out of concern for culture and tradition.

According to the World Health Organization, worldwide one out of every five women and one out of every 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child aged 0-17 years.

"Many families refuse to work for their child’s welfare. Sometimes they threaten us not to deal with their cases", said Sairan Salah, head of the Children’s Star Organization, which has conducted several campaigns raising awareness about sexual assault.

There are only a few organizations in the Kurdistan Region working on children’s issues and there is generally a low-level of awareness about sexual abuse of children. Most families try to hide incidents of sexual violence and often resort to tribal reconciliation as a means to "resolve the issue.

Parents should give their children information about these issues and teach them ways that they can defend themselves and ways that they can get medical and legal help if necessary.