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Boy with disability burnt for being suspected thief

A 15-year-old boy who cannot speak and is deaf had his disability land him in trouble when a family to which he had gone to ask for water to drink suspected him of being a thief and burnt him on the buttocks on a charcoal stove.

The treatment left him with serious injuries which made doctors initially conclude that he would need skin grafting.

Malawi National Association of the Deaf (Manad) has since condemned the treatment of the boy, describing it as barbaric.

It also says this is one of the many abuses which people with disability in Malawi are routinely subjected to.

On May 22 this year, the boy, Rabson Mkandawire, left his home in Ndirande Township for a walk during which he felt thirsty and decided to ask for water at a house in Ndirande Newlines.

Due to communication barrier, people at the house did not understand his request and mistook him for a thief. He was not armed.

They therefore made the boy to sit on a flaming charcoal stove as punishment.

When Malawi News visited the boy last week at his home in the township, he was having difficulties to sit due to the fact that the injuries are yet to heal fully, about three months after he met his fate.

Rabson’s mother, Rachel Mkandawire, said it has been a struggle for her to look after her son after the incident.

“My son sustained serious injuries and I have struggled to nurse him. He was in Standard 4 at Mountain View in Bvumbwe, Thyolo. But due to this incident he did not sit for final examinations,’ she said.

They reported the matter to Ndirande Police Station and she said they expect justice to prevail “because those that assaulted him admitted the crime.”

For their investigations, the police asked for a medical report from the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital where the victim was treated.

“The bearer of the letter was on May 22 2016 referred to your hospital by our office after he complained to have had been assaulted by men and women.

He had sustained severe burns on his buttocks. Would you kindly send us your findings for our investigations,” reads the letter, signed by the Officer in charge of Ndirande Police.

The hospital released a preliminary report on the boy’s condition following the request by the police.

The medical report reads:

“Rabison sustained 5 percent full thickness burns to both buttocks and was being seen in burns outpatient clinic where the wounds were being dressed.

Currently he is still awaiting surgery on the 28th July where skin grafting will be done.”

However, after the hospital visit on July 28, the doctors certified that the boy was healed, according to his health passport.

Executive Director of Malawi National Association of the Deaf (Manad) Byson Chimenya has described the incident as unfortunate.

He said the family in Ndirande, after noting that the boy was not responding, should have tried to sign to him and he should have responded.

He added, “It is a sad story. Manad as an organisation representing deaf people in Malawi strongly condemns this barbaric action. People should know that deafness is a hidden disability, unknown to many people unless you talk with the person.”

He said deaf people face many challenges in their day-to-day life in education, health, information and employment.

“Communication is the largest barrier as we are taken as people that cannot excel in life. Our education system is in a dwindling standard. There is lack of specialist teachers to teach the deaf using sign language as is done in other countries. Drop out cases amongst the deaf is high. Most of them are unable to pass Junior Certificate examinations and even primary school examinations,” he said.

According to Chimenya, in hospitals both private and public, deaf people fail to access proper medical care because of the same communication barrier.

He said sometimes deaf people are given medicine without clear prescription and the deaf have no choice but take it, a situation that worsens their condition.

He said the family that assaulted the boy should be taken to court to answer charges of causing bodily harm to the boy.

“We have the Child Rights Convention which strictly prohibits any form of cruelty and harmful practices to children including those with disabilities,” he said.

And the Executive Director of child welfare organisation Step Kids Awareness (Steka) Godknows Maseko said Rabson’s experience was pathetic.

“We hope justice will prevail on the case. The child was not armed. It is surprising that he was mistaken for a thief. I hope the police will expedite the investigations process on the matter so that the culprits are brought to book,” he said.

Maseko said Malawi has enough laws that can deal with the people that victimise vulnerable children.

“This is one of the many cases children with disabilities face in the country. Therefore government and all stakeholders have a role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of children,” he said.

The good news, Maseko said, is that the boy was able to identify the house where the incident took place.

He added: “We heard some disturbing news that some people urged the parents of the victim to settle the matter out of court. This is uncalled for. The case must be concluded in the court of law so that justice prevails.”

The case which was being handled by Ndirande Police is now at the Southern Region Police headquarters.

Deputy Police Publicist for Southern Region Beatrice Mikuwa said the matter is yet to be taken to court because investigations are still underway.

“It’s true that the incident happened in Ndirande. The case will be taken to court once investigations are concluded. We are also waiting for the hospital to give us the final medical report on the matter,” Mikuwa said.

Mikuwa declined to give the names of the suspects in the case.

“We cannot disclose the names now, because the list of suspects might change. We will tell you everything when the case is ready for hearing,” she said.

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