Ripping out life from little girls

her mother sent her to buy candles at a hawker within their village. On her way back, she stopped over at a friend’s house for a little chat.

She proceeded home when darkness was setting in. Passing close to a bush at one place, she saw four weird-looking men unknown to her. Her body was gripped with fear and she started trembling.

She was so afraid that she made u-turn and started running away. But her strides were not fast and long enough to carry her to safety.

She was overpowered, taken into the bush, pinned to the ground before the men dazed her with their monstrous sexual hunger.

The next thing she saw was her mother sitting beside her. She was lying on a hospital bed with so much pain all over her body.

Young girls such as these are usually victims of defilement

That is the story of 13-year-old Chrissy (real name withheld) who was 12-years-old when she met this fate. Now she is a teen mother infected with HIV.

“I only thank God that I am alive now although I was infected and have a baby,” she says.

This is just one of the many sad tales and situations befalling the girl child in Malawi where cases of defilement are increasing at a scaring rate.

Available statistics from the police show that defilement cases have increased by 7.3 percent in the first six months of 2017 compared to the same period last year.

A total of 384 cases have been registered from January to June this year while in 2016, the police registered 358 cases during the same period.

Possible causes to this increase remain speculative.

“People with chronic illnesses such as HIV and Aids and cancer are advised by traditional healers to sleep with children less than 16 years for them to get cured and this is fuelling the malpractice,” says James Kadadzera, National Police spokesperson.

He says people who go to traditional healers for success in their businesses are also told to sleep with children.

But whatever the cause, the point is that these noxious practices have devastating effects on lives of many young girls.

Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe, clinical psychologist at the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine, says many defiled children remain traumatised in their entire life.

The after effects include loss of trust, poor performance in class and sometimes promiscuous behaviour.

Bandawe says children often look up to adults for protection and care. But when those adults become predators, children lose trust in them.

He adds that some defiled children tend to internalise this traumatising experience thinking that they are responsible for being defiled.

“This leads them to feel dirty and alienate themselves from their peers,” says Bandawe.

He also points out that it is hard for defiled children to perform well at school and may also engage in dangerous behaviours.


Action being taken

Kadadzera says the police are civic-educating people on the ills of defilement and are encouraging people to report perpetrators.

Religious leaders are also taking their part by calling their congregations to rise up in the fight against the vice.

While faulting laxity in the country’s laws as one of the factors triggering the trend, Qudria Muslim Association of Malawi (Qmam) publicity secretary Sheikh Jafaar Kawinga notes that the church is not doing enough to help curb the malpractice.

“As the clergy, we are not tackling these topics during our sermons in mosques and churches. People are always occupied with political campaigns instead of campaigning against rape and defilement,” he says.

Blantyre Archdiocese communications secretary the Reverend Frank Mwinganyama says the rise in child abuse cases is a sign of general moral decay that reflects badly on Malawian society.

He calls for a review of some of the laws regarding such issues to make sure the protection of children is emphasised.


Government’s interventions

On government part, public relations officer for Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Lucy Bandazi, says action is being taken to curb and deal with the malpractice.

Some of them include beefing up personnel in child protection work and establishment of structures such as one-stop centres and community victim support units across the country where people can report cases of defilement.

Asked if the ministry is satisfied with sentences courts give to perpetrators, Bandazi says the ministry trusts the justice system, but it is also aware that there are some instances where the public is not satisfied with sentences.

She says there are some factors that lead to lenient sentencing which are beyond the control of courts such as loss of evidence.

To overcome this shortfall, the ministry has intensified awareness on what the public should do when defilement occurs to preserve evidence.

“One of them is avoiding bathing a defiled child before going to police. The ministry will also continue to work with the police to ensure that the right charges are placed on the perpetrators,” says Bandazi.

While there is intensification in the fight against defilement and rape cases, the conduct of some parents and guardians in shielding perpetrators is undermining such efforts.

Mostly it is because these perpetrators are relations or that the guardians have been paid money

“Parents should know that it is an offence to be party to blocking justice. They need to be aware that shielding perpetrators is an offence that is punishable by law,” says Bandazi. n

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