When a 15-year old girl lost her mother early this year, she was soon impregnated by her stepfather.
Narrates the teenager from Traditional Authority Katuli in Mangochi: “A few days after burial, the stepdad started coaxing and pestering me to sleep with him.
“He told me he so loved my mother that he wouldn’t marry another woman, who might torture me and my brothers. Eventually, I gave in to his sexual demands.”
The secret affair came in the open when the girl fell pregnant.
“My elder brother alerted neighbours and the stepdad was arrested for defilement,” she recounts.
Isaac Machinjiri, senior assistant social welfare officer in Mangochi, says sexual abuse is rampant in the district due to poverty and harmful cultural beliefs.
“Nearly 40 in every 100 children in the district have experienced some form of violence. Child marriages, defilement, rape and child neglect top the list,” he explains.
Sexual violence fuels school drop-out rates, HIV infections, teen pregnancies and child marriages among girls, says Makanjira.
“It also affects the victims’ mental and physical well-being of children, leaving them traumatised for the rest of their lives,” he states.
Qadria Muslim Association of Malawi (Qmam) is working with faith leaders and chiefs to combat sexual violence in Mangochi and Machinga.
The faith organisation is running a project funded by the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) to safeguard children in the eastern districts.
Qmam is one of five faith organisations implementing the Faith and Community Initiative financed through Health Policy Plus (HP+) under the Palladium Group.
The project also seeks to rapidly increase the proportion of men and boys living with HIV who know their status, receive treatment and care to suppress their viral load.
“Specifically, the target is to reach 5 000 men and 6 000 boys with HIV messages to increase HIV testing, treatment and adherence services by August,” says Qmam programmes manager Ousmane Chunga.
The change agents intend to test 1 000 males in Mangochi and 500 in Machinga. As part of the race, the Muslim leaders also distribute HIV oral self-testing kits and support people living with HIV.
“More importantly, the project is also strengthening child protection and raising mass awareness against sexual violence through policy development,” says Chunga.
To end sexual violence, Sheikhs, Imams and other clerics are spreading vital information to end sexual violence in the Muslim-dominated districts.
Qmam is fighting HIV and violence against children using a faith-led approach.
Sheikh Jafali Halidi Mdala of Talian Mosque in T/A Jalasi says Qmam envisages a caring world where communities are empowered, social obligations are fulfilled and “people respond as one to the suffering of others, including children”.
“At the heart of Qmam’s work is the wellbeing of children and it takes seriously its responsibility to uphold the protection of children, uphold children’s rights, protect and safeguard children from harm,” he says.
Muslims believe that every child is a trust from God and should be protected from all forms of abuse.
“In the Qu’ran, Allah commanded: ‘Oh you, who believe! Do not betray Allah and His Messenger, and do not knowingly betray your trusts’. Children are gifts from Him,” Sheikh Mdala explains.
Mufti Mussa Dinala says it is sad most child are abused by people who are supposed to safeguard them.
He states: “Child abuse occurs when adults or older children hurt young people or fail to act to prevent harm.
“A man is a shepherd of his family and he is responsible for them.
“He is not one of us who does not show tenderness to the young and who does not show respect to the elder,” Mufti Dinala said.
Apart from clerics, the project puts Muslim chiefs on the frontline in the fight against violence against children in their communities.
“Violence against children perpetuates poverty and children dropout of school, shattering their future prospects,” says Sultan Mposa.