KUWAIT: The invisible problem of child molestation

Summary: Legislative punishment for child molestation is very strict, but the cultural and social stigma around the subject in Kuwait makes it hard for people to speak up. The lack of adequate accommodation for child victims of domestic abuse who have no other guardians is also an issue for concern, with one girl being housed in a centre for juvenile delinquents.

[8 July 2011] - When children are scared, their instinctive reaction in seeking safety is to turn to their parents. Children are vulnerable, innocent, doling out kisses on the cheeks of parents, aunts and uncles, and they are ever ready to learn from and imitate how adults behave. So what happens if these caretakers are actually the ones abusing the children? Who do children turn to when they are hurt by their parents? 

Lawyer Mariam Al-Bahar, a member of the children's rights committee at Kuwait Lawyer's Association, recounted a heartbreaking incident she had to deal with. An 11-year-old girl appeared at school with bloodstains on her clothes for weeks. When a staff member asked her about the reason behind the bloodstains, the girl broke down in tears and refused to speak.

She was then taken to the police station by one of her teachers to file a lawsuit against both her parents. "She kept silent for weeks, but finally spoke up. Her father used to rape her every day. Every day. And when she sought help from her mother, [her mother] slapped her and refused to speak to her again.

Because the girl had no other guardian, she was taken into the custody of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (MSAL) and put in an institution housing juvenile delinquents since no suitable accommodation was available.

Legislative punishment for child molestation is very strict, but the cultural and social stigma around the subject in Kuwait makes it hard for people to speak up. According to Kuwaiti law, the sentence for a guardian who sexually abuses a child is either death or life imprisonment. Kuwaiti law defines a guardian as a parent, uncle, older sibling, babysitter, teacher or domestic helper.

Lack of reporting

Despite the knowledge that such incidents do take place, however, only a handful are reported. Al-Bahar explained that the majority of abuse victims choose not to file lawsuits: "If the news of a child who was molested by a parent - which happens often in Kuwait - breaks out, the entire family gets affected for many years to come. Because society looks at a family that had such an instance as a family that is contaminated and dirty, it becomes something that the family prefers to keep a secret.

There are several cases she dealt with in which girls were impregnated by fathers, uncles, or brothers and had abortions. In one instance, a girl was taken to a hospital after complications from attempting to abort the pregnancy at home. When the hospital personnel called the police to investigate the suspicious abortion, especially since the girl was in her early teens and had no marriage certificate, the family refused to file a lawsuit.

The siblings ended up taking the sister to the delinquents' rehabilitation centre, explained the lawyer. "The social workers there found out her side of the story. She was wrongly put in a place she doesn't belong because her family refused to punish the relative responsible, and they did not want to deal with the shame.

Social Perspective

Kuwaiti society is uncomfortable with talking about sex-related issues. When a sex-related subject is raised in conversation, people will often switch to speaking in coded language about it. Social worker Sawsan Al-Beloushi said: "When a mother finds out that her child's uncle or her own husband is molesting her child, sadly she prefers to keep silent. No-one wants to deal with the stigma of sexual abuse.

Child molestation and abuse is underreported in Kuwait, Al-Beloushi added, with the amount of cases reported representing only a small fraction of what actually takes place. "What is disappointing is that we cannot launch an awareness campaign about the subject," she continued. "People are so used to avoiding this subject, and if a campaign was launched, it would be considered offensive. It is reaching a dangerous and unhealthy state of denial.

For a sexually abused child to speak up takes great courage, and abuse victims need to find support. In this part of the world, children are often taught to blindly obey and respect their elders no matter what those elders ask them to do, explained Al-Beloushi. "A pretty common saying we hear here is, 'If your elder asks you to jump into the ocean and drown, you do it.' This is pretty much what happens to those children. They don't want to be disobedient, even though this blind obedience is leading them towards destruction. At the same time, they are not taken seriously when they complain. 


Further Information: 

Owner: Hussain Al-Qataripdf: http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=Mzk2MDM0MzE1Nw==


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