During the night of October 24, Patrick Sambo, 26, broke into a grass-thatched house in Makuluni Village in Mzimba to abduct a girl just a third his age.
Prosecutor Richard Bula told a court in the district the convict broke a window to the eight-year-old’s bedroom and whisked her to a nearby forest where he repeatedly defiled her.
“The girl’s mother reported that her child was missing. During a search, we found him defiling the girl in the forest. We took the victim to Mzimba District Hospital for check-up and treatment,” he said.
Mzimba Magistrate’s Court has since slapped Sambo with 21 years imprisonment—14 years for defilement, four years for child abduction and three years for burglary.
But the victim’s mother is not amused.
“The child is struggling to walk and she finds it tough to face any man,” she says.
Sexual assault and gender-based violence (GBV) cases in Mzimba are rampant.
Coordinators of one-stop centres at Mzuzu Central Hospital (MCH) and Mzimba District Hospital say the cases are on the rise.
“This year, we have received more reports of defilement cases than the previous years,” says Hilda Phiri, from MCH. She says rape and defilement victims should be rushed to the nearest one-stop centre within 72 hours to get treatment before proceeding to other institutions.
Defilement constitute 51 percent of the cases handled by Mzimba District Social Welfare Office, which is part of the Spotlight Initiative to roll back all forms of GBV.
The 500 million euros (about K427 billion) initiative underway in Mzimba, Nsanje, Machinga, Nkhata Bay, Dowa and Ntchisi is bankrolled by the European Union (EU) through United Nations (UN) Development Programme (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), UN Women and UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
“Mzimba is implementing the quick-wins intervention to improve access to GBV services, prosecution of offenders and safe spaces for girls and women because we recorded a high number of GBV cases characterised by poor access to essential GBV services,” says district gender officer Japhet Chirwa.
The initiative also reopens ‘forgotten cases’ to ensure victims receive necessary support and perpetrators face the law. It has handled 67 cases, securing a 20-year imprisonment of a man, 44, who raped two girls in 2014.
“When offenders are held accountable, the malpractices can come to an end,” says Spotlight Initiative joint district programme coordinator Eneya Nkhoma, urging community and religious leaders to lead.
According to Chirwa, 51 cases have been completed, five withdrawn and 11 are in progress.
In Mzimba, the Spotlight Initiative rolled out in five of the 10 traditional authorities—M’mbelwa, Chindi, Mzukuzuku, Mpherembe and Mtwalo—in partnership with the district gender technical working group comprising social welfare, gender, youth, information and the media representatives.
On the 13-nation initiative, the UN agencies work with existing district and community structures to eliminate harmful cultural practices, promote sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and end violence against women and girls.
UN resident coordinator Maria Torres says: “Although Malawi enacted some gender-related laws, many women and girls continue to suffer in silence because they do not know they have such legal instruments available to protect them, and they do not know where to go for assistance.
“Therefore, the media has a responsibility to raise awareness about the available legal instruments and protection mechanisms,” she said.
Ending GBV is part of the Agenda 2030, including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The global goals hinge on leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest.
Currently, Malawi is ranked 145 out of 188 countries on gender equality index.
Studies show that two in five women and girls aged 15-49 experience sexual and physical abuse with 96 percent of GBV perpetrated by men.
Senior Chief Mtwalo urges traditional leaders to always refer such disputes to police, courts, community victim support units and social welfare offices.
“Cases involving gender-based violence, child marriages and teenage pregnancies are beyond our capacity,” he said during a Spotlight Initiative inception meeting at his Ezondweni headquarters.
Mtwalo urges Malawians to unite in the fight against sexual GBV and harmful cultural practices as some cases go unreported because women and girls are assaulted by men they trust. As the annual 16 Days of Activism against GBV is underway, Fanny Mangenje, a child protection worker in Mtwalo, wants everyone to recognise the importance of protecting girls and women “as most families treat girls as sex objects”.