By Joseph Rwagatare
Child soldiers conscripted in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexually abusing children in Britain and other terrible crimes against children are back in the headlines.
Over the last three years, the western media has been awash with reports of child abuse by prominent people: celebrities of all sorts, politicians, clergy men, aristocrats, philanthropists, and many others.
The latest on the list of suspected child abusers is a former Tory British Prime Minister. If he were African, he would have been roundly denounced as a savage, ogre or demon. Not just he, but also his relations and compatriots - the whole nation.
The same media has been reporting on the recruitment of child soldiers in conflict areas, especially in the DR Congo, and calling for the arrest and prosecution of those who recruit and force children to fight. At one time they even tried to accuse Rwanda of having child soldiers.
We are supposed to be revolted by this abuse of the innocents and condemn such vile acts. And normally should.
But it seems the degree of revulsion and condemnation of both is expected to be different - one, child soldiers, is made to appear infinitely worse than child sex abuse, perhaps because the first is associated with backward Africa and the second with advanced Europe.
This difference is evident in the way both are handled. In the case of child soldiers, a relentless campaign is often mounted by the media, the rights brigade and all the so-called custodians of our collective conscience to have those deemed responsible for recruiting child fighters arrested and prosecuted.
And indeed someone is usually picked up and carted off to The Hague to face trial. That happened to Thomas Lubanga for alleged war crimes in Ituri in DRC. He has since been convicted and is serving his sentence.
Another Congolese general, Bosco Ntaganda, is facing similar charges. He was in court last week and denied the charges and refused to be referred to as a warlord, insisting he is a soldier. The warlord label is, of course, part of the plot to demonise an individual.
When it comes to child sex abuse, the culprits are only named after they are safely dead, when they can no longer be pursued and brought to book. It was only three years ago that the most celebrated BBC presenter and renowned philanthropist, Jimmy Savile, was uncovered as a serial paedophile.
He was already dead. Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister now being mentioned in connection to the sex abuse of children, died a decade ago.
Others still living cannot be revealed, apparently because of libel laws. So we must wait till they are dead and unreachable to condemn them, and in the meantime the evil they do goes on.
Three years ago, I offered a few thoughts on both crimes. Their reappearance in the media these last few weeks has prompted me to revisit those thoughts. However, I have no intention to absolve or reduce the gravity of evil of either.
Both are obviously wicked and should be equally condemned as such. But it might be helpful to put them in proper context before passing judgement as some do.
Experience in conflict situations has shown that children are usually not deliberately recruited as fighters. In many cases they are driven into fighting by circumstances, not choice.
They go to the commanders of the various fighting outfits for protection because very often that is the only available alternative. The other is certain death.
This is different from the common western perception that all child soldiers were kidnapped and forced to shoot their mothers.
Paedophilia, however, is not a crime of circumstance, brought about by abnormal, unforeseen conditions or unusual times. Its perpetrators are not ruthless war-lords, outlaws or social outcasts. Nor are they the riff-raff of society.
Sexual abuse against children is committed in normal times, in the most affluent societies. It does not take place in back alleys or the horrible conditions of a Dickensian workhouse at the hands of a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered taskmaster. It happens in posh places, in luxurious surroundings.
The victims are drawn from places where children should ordinarily expect nurture and protection - schools, the church, foster care homes and other charitable institutions.
They are usually trusting, innocent children from ordinary caring families, or they are deprived, vulnerable children who need love, compassion, protection and support to lead normal, balanced lives.
And the people who prey on these children are some of the most prominent people. They are men of power and influence and ordinarily inspire confidence and trust.
In the end, what happens to these ordinary children is betrayal of the most inexcusable nature. It is the forced loss of self-respect, innocence and faith in the potential goodness of humanity. It is the theft of something of immense value that can never be regained.
It is the annihilation of innocence!
It is evident that this kind of abuse is a widespread practice that covers a very large number of children and that has been going on for a very long time. It is also clear that paedophiles do not strike on the spur of the moment.
Their actions are premeditated; their victims and venues for the commission of their crimes carefully selected. They involve a large number of accomplices in important places.
Crime Against Humanity
For all these reasons, child sex abuse is not an ordinary crime. It qualifies as a crime against humanity and the same zeal with which offenders of such crimes are hunted, exposed and punished should apply.