Nowhere to run

The Malawian girl is crying for an end to atrocities inflicted by adults who ought to protect her, writes our News Analyst MERCY MALIKWA.

Police officers are employed to protect people’s lives, rights and property—especially the defenceless.

Stop it: Some of the protestors in a recent march against gender based violence

However, Collins Mwambiwa, from Limbe Police Station in Blantyre, has entered his second month in jail for defiling a 17-year-old girl he was supposed to assist.

When the teen went to Limbe Victim Support Unit (VSU) in May, she sought counselling.

In fact, Mwambiwa asked her parents to leave her with him as “counselling a problem child takes time”.

But little did they know the man would use the power of the uniform to defile her.

She wept.

In October, the lawbreaker in a law enforcer’s uniform was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.

For rights defender Beatrice Mateyo, this is not story of a hunter being hunted.

Rather, it exposes how girls in the country are sexually assaulted by people they trust.

“Cases involving strangers are isolated,” says Mateyo. “They are often attacked by people they trust, including parents, guardians and teachers.”

Child rights activist Maxwell Matewere is worried that adults expected to protect children against abuse are in the forefront perpetrating the malpractice.

“The public sector reforms should be extended to the systems that protect children. Communities, parents and the police should be reformed. It is time everyone played a role to protect children,” he explains.

Matewere finds it ironic that Malawians, who swiftly deal with suspected thieves, burglars and killers, seem not to care about rapists and defilers.

Sexual abuse is a widespread rights violation faced by children in the country.

But girls usually suffer in silence when they are attacked by guardians.

Relatives usually conceal the crime when it involves a girl’s father or step-father.

“Being abused by a guardian angel makes it difficult for children to report the abuse because the abusers are the ones looking after their welfare,” explains Mateyo.

Every day, child protection officer John Manyumba handles “shocking cases” of child abuse and domestic violence at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) one-stop centre   in Blantyre.

One of them involved a 12-year-old girl with a mental illness from Bangwe Township in the city, who had been defiled three times by different men.

He narrates: “The first time she was abused, we counselled her and reported the matter to police who arrested her defiler.

“This scenario repeated itself two more times. People take advantage to abuse her because of her mental state. This is even more saddening.”

The one-stop centre registers about 40 cases a month.

Recently, Manyumba saw two pregnant 12-year-old girls, from Kunthembwe in Blantyre.

The minors have since dropped out of school.

Their defilers, a brother-in-law and a supposed boyfriend, are on the run.

Malawi ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC).

The agreements oblige government to tirelessly protect children’s rights and eliminate violence against them.

Recently, government amended defilement laws, outlawing all sexual encounters with girls aged below 18—up from 13.

But girls continue experiencing abuse.

The first nationwide assessment of the gravity of violence against children and young women, released in 2015, indicates that sexual abuse has become a social norm in most communities.

One out of five women and one out of seven men in the country had experienced sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, shows the study.

Two years ago, Marta Santos Pais, the United Nations special envoy on violence against children, called on chiefs and families to take the lead in ending the vice.

“Children are waiting for us to act. Let them not wait any longer,” she said.

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