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City of Banjul
Saturday, September 24, 2022

Protect our children

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With Aisha Jallow

These little ones, who should be protected anywhere and anyhow, are vulnerable and dependent on us adults to look out for them and to cause them no harm. This comes without saying, doesn’t it? Yet we still read about cases where small children are harmed. Unfortunately, the instances where children are harmed and even killed are too many, so it is hard to know where to begin. The case that made me write this time was reported in The Standard newspaper. It told us of a 65-year-old man who is accused of raping a 28-month-old baby. I will repeat this if you don’t believe your eyes or ears: a 65-year-old man who is accused of raping a 28-month-old baby! What is wrong with some men? Are they completely unable to control their lust for sex?

It is not a normal person who becomes attracted to babies or young children, it is a paedophile and we can’t shy away from addressing that problem. I wrote about this problem some time ago, where I said that obedient girls are easy victims. Girls who are brought up to be obedient and always do what an older person tells them to do, will easily get in trouble. They are not raised to question anything; they are raised to be quiet and obey. For what kind of life are we raising our girls? Nowadays when people have too much time on their hands, and they have access to the Internet, paedophiles have plenty of sources for their inspiration. If someone didn’t have a sick mind before, they will surely be spurred to their sick actions through the Internet.

The little girl was left at the toilet to ease herself. The mother just stepped out to fetch some water. Women are always busy so I don’t blame her that she didn’t stay with the girl while she was at the toilet. Every person needs some privacy when they take care of their toilet business, and every person is also entitled to be left in peace doing it. The mother heard the baby cry and rushed to see what was happening. At the same time she saw this paedophile coming out of the toilet where the small girl was sitting. When the mother checked her daughter she found that the baby was bleeding. Can you imagine the pain that was caused to this little girl? She was too small to perhaps be able to say more than some words, and she was definitely too small to understand what this awful man was doing to her.

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The baby will be affected by this trauma for many years to come, and if she doesn’t get proper help she could end up with psychological problems. Many people brush this off and say that small kids forget so easily and just go on with their lives. Just because they are unable to speak about their trauma doesn’t mean that they are not affected by it. Such small kids as the baby in this current case don’t have the vocabulary to express what has happened to them. They don’t understand what has happened, only that it was something bad and hurtful. If we treat them in a way that we don’t want to speak about what has happened, we make kids believe that what happened to them was shameful and that the shame is on them.

There is a diagnosis called Dissolving Traumatic Body Memory, DTBM, which means that the body remembers your trauma, even if your mind tried to erase it. Our brains work in such amazing ways that when we go through too much trauma, the brain will ”switch off” in an attempt to survive and heal. The creation of the human body is more complicated and amazing than any highly qualified scientist can fully comprehend. The human psyche is just as complicated, or even more, to understand because we can’t cure our mental illnessess with an operation. We can’t open up someone’s brain to see what is mentally wrong with it. A tumour in the brain can be discovered, and that tumour can put pressure on a certain part of the brain and cause problems we interpret as mental. When the tumour is removed, and the patient has healed, it will in most cases go back its normal self again.

Going through a trauma as an adult is tough enough, but when that happens to a small child it is worse. The child does not have enough life experience to understand what is happening, or being able to defend itself. When a human being is exposed to danger, three different reactions kick in without a thought: fight, flight or freeze. It is not easy for a small child, especially a baby, to fight its attacker. Also it is not easy for a child to run away, if it is able to run fast – which babies certainly can’t. If the child is taught to be obedient and silent in the company of an elder, it will remain silent and still when told so. The only thing left for the child to survive the trauma is to ”freeze”. It has nothing to do with the temperature of the child or the surroundings, but instead an ancient inherited reaction kicks in and the child becomes stiff, like frozen in one place.

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Nature gave us this survival reaction and it protected us when we were attacked by an animal. We ”played dead” and hoped the animal would prefer fresh meat instead of an already dead prey. We can still see animals do this in the nature. Anyone of you who have chickens in their compound have seen that sometimes when attacked a chicken would spreads its wings, become stiff and pretend to be dead. Not until it feels that the attacker is gone, would the chicken move again. Well, chickens don’t need psychological help, but humans do and that is a problem when we don’t have these resources in the country. We have too many adult victims who struggle with mental health, and they don’t get enough help.

I have been told that there is only one trained psychologist in The Gambia. It seems like psychological problems are taboo and the problems are hidden, but they will always escape and cause problems elsewhere. We need trained psychologists who are specialised in treating children, who know how to approach a child that is in distress and who also know that not all symptoms are obvious. As the body remembers the trauma, it can be hard at first to understand what is behind the physical reactions. Why is a child crying when approached by elderly men? Why does a girl refuses to sit on the laps of an unknown person in the gelé-gelé when the mother could have saved money not having to pay for another seat?

The children are mostly unable to tell what they have experienced, but their bodies become triggered by a situation that is similar to what they have experienced before.

Don’t brush away the child’s reaction and tell it to behave and do what it is told. The child has a silent language which we must learn to listen to.

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