Romania is considering following in the footsteps of France, Spain and Portugal by decriminalising incest.
But Romanians are divided in their views about decriminalisation. Anuta Popa, a 22-year-old woman in the western city of Cluj, said she doubted that incest ever happened by consent in her country, saying it was more likely that the man was drunk and violently attacked his sister or mother.
"Incest should not be legalised. If they want to have sex, better to say a prayer and remember that God sees them," she declared. "I would castrate them."
Iosif Damian, a 56-year-old cleaner, said he was unsure if consenting adults should be jailed for incest but added "I think it is shameful all the same. "Or (if) they are ill and prison is not a solution, they need medical help," he said.
One 27-year old chauffeur did not see any problem with the legal change. "If brothers and sisters want to have fun, why should they be imprisoned? It is nobody's business what I do in my bedroom," Ionut Breazu of Cluj told the Associated Press.
And then there are the moral dilemmas over incest.
"It generates a confusion of roles," says Romanian psychologist Aurora Liceanu. "Imagine how can one explain to a child that his father is also his grandfather?"
Yet around Europe, there is some acceptance of consensual incest among adults.
Irish homemaker Margaret Henry, 42, said society shouldn't be so concerned about it. "(Why are they) arresting people for what they do in their own homes, as long as they're adults and they're not hurting each other?" she asked.
The law says that people who may not get married to each other because they are in the same family also can't have sex with each other. If they do, then one or both of them (in the case of consensual sex) might be charged with the crime of incest. But the people involved are usually an adult and a child in the same family. Usually it is an adult man in the family forcing a child to have sex.
Recent reports indicate that one in two children have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18, says Joan van Niekerk, national coordinator of Childline, an organisation that assists children who have experienced abuse.
Tragically most cases of abuse go unreported. The full extent of statistics therefore remains unrecorded. "Boys significantly under-report sexual abuse as they fear ridicule and also because much of the abuse on boys is male on male, they fear questions about their sexuality," says Van Niekerk.
"The 'decentralisation' – effectively the disbanding – of our child protection units in the police have created enormous problems for reporting child abuse. Children have to report to untrained police officers, who are under pressure to reduce crime statistics. They find it easy to persuade parents and caretakers not to go ahead with charges, or simply turn children away. This makes a mockery of our crime statistics when it comes to crimes against children," says Van Niekerk. She adds that most offenders are in a position in which they can “gate-keep” the child’s access to help and justice."
According to Childline, the notion of "stranger danger" is misleading. People often think that children are only abused by strangers, but sometimes the person who abuses children is a friend of the parents or a family member. The Teddy Bear Clinic, which treats children who have suffered abuse, states that 21% of children are abused by their biological father.
Incestuous acts can be physical, verbal, or emotional and can include sexual touching and fondling, oral, anal or vaginal penetration, having children pose undressed or perform in a sexual fashion on film or in person. It involves forcing, bribing, threatening or pressuring a child into sexual activity or awareness.
According to Women Against Child Abuse, incest is much more than the transgression of a child’s body and soul, it is the absolute betrayal of their trust in the very people who are supposed to be their protectors and caretakers. While children suffer the sexual abuse, perhaps the most severe form of their abuse is their loyalty towards and love of their abusers.
"Children are frequently taught not to question authority and may believe that adults are always right. Perpetrators of sexual abuse know this and take advantage of these vulnerabilities in children."
(AP and Ilse Pauw, Health24, May 2009)