Drawing attention to the harrowing traumas of child victims of sexual violence, UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra has called for an increased support for such children and raising awareness that underage sex can lead to unwanted teen pregnancy or HIV.
Bollywood actress Chopra, who has been the ambassador since December last year and a United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) India Ambassador for 10 years, visited Zimbabwe this week where she met child survivors of sexual violence and heard their harrowing stories.
Through her trip, she advocated for increased support for child victims of sexual violence.
"No woman, and most definitely no child, should ever have to experience sexual violence especially from someone they trust for protection, such as a family member," she said.
Chopra's first stop was in Chitungwiza, south of Harare, Zimbabwe, where she met a 13-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by her uncle and threatened her if she revealed the abuse.
The girl had become pregnant but with the help of her mother and neighbours, the incident was reported to the police and the uncle who abused her was arrested, tried, and jailed for 10 years.
"As a society, it is on us to provide and take care of our children as citizens of the world, to educate children at a young age that it's not OK to be inappropriately touched and that under-age sex can lead to unwanted teen pregnancy or HIV," Chopra said.
Chopra, 34, also visited 'Childline Zimbabwe', the country's 24-hour service for children who have been abused, violated or exploited. Besides providing free, confidential, multilingual counselling to children aged 18 years and under, 'Childline' also offers 25 community-based drops in centres throughout the country.
"I was astonished by the number of calls that were coming in during the brief time I was there," she said.
"The counsellors, all volunteers, told me that many calls come from children in hysterics because they had been raped or abused. They were so scared," she added.
Chopra said the model of 'Childline' should be replicated by countries that have high rates of violence against children "because it is a safe place for children to turn to and know that their call will be answered by a compassionate person who will take their complaints seriously and respond."
According to UNICEF, sexual violence against children is widespread in Zimbabwe and latest available data has shown that close to one in 10 girls aged 15-17 years old have been victims of forced sexual intercourse or a forced sexual act.
Approximately two-thirds of victims were first abused by an intimate partner and about a tenth of the victims by a stranger.
Most concerning is that in the case of children, the most abuse occurred in situations when the child knew and trusted the adult who abused him or her. Sexual violence against children is also "mostly invisible" and goes largely undocumented, noted UNICEF, stating that fear of "getting into trouble" as well as shame and stigma all contributed to children not reporting the abuse.