Her father has been away for months now and might never return home. But images of the bitter experience he forced down her life keep cropping up in Nancy’s mind.
She feels she has been dishonoured for life.
“Is he still my father? No! A father does not do that to her daughter,” Nancy, 13, says, a demure look flitting across her face.
Every night she hears hushed footsteps of someone appearing to creep towards her room, she screams and tosses her beddings to the floor, her stepmother says.
In their little unelectrified raw-brick house with corroding iron sheets making the roof, a man who was supposed to be Nancy’s closest protector despoiled her.
He took advantage of her stepmother’s persistent absence from home to slake his lust on his own offspring.
“He injured her in the private parts. She was in great pain,” says Feckson Zaire, a member of a community group that is pushing for the protection of girls in Machinga’s Traditional Authority Mlomba, where Nancy comes from.
When the little girl finally spilled the beans and her distress caught the attention of the group, the defiler escaped to Nayuchi, an area stretching near Machinga’s border with Mozambique.
He had left behind more grief for his daughter who keeps asking herself why fate shoved her into the care of a man who would turn around to become her predator.
“We took her to the hospital where she was treated for the injuries. She consistently reported terrible stomach pains. About three months later, she tested positive for HIV,” Zaire says.
He almost censures himself and the child protection group in his area for failing to prevent what he calls a wicked attack on an innocent 13-year-old girl.
But somehow, Zaire says, it is practically impossible for his team to invade every household and enquire from girls if they feel they are being exposed to any danger.
“Naturally, everyone feels safer in their own home. You wouldn’t expect a girl to suspect her father may one day defile her,” he states.
Apparently, the stepmother— whom Nancy’s father married after his first wife died—often left the little girl to take care of the house while she was away.
She could cook for the man who was quietly lusting after her before he finally fulfilled what had started as mere whims.
“What is really painful is that the man knew already that he was HIV positive. After enquiring about his life from his relations, we found out that the wife had died of Aids-related illnesss.
“It is unfortunate that he brought his own daughter into a crisis that she had nothing to do with. I pray he never finds peace wherever he is,” Zaire says, sounding crushed.
Even Paramount Chief Kawinga, in whose jurisdiction the incident occurred, towards the end of last year, does not know why some men have lost a sense of responsibility.
He concedes that cases of defilement in the border district are rampant and that little girls live in perpetual fear of being ruined even by those closest to them.
“It is difficult to imagine what these men really seek in these little ones. Is it hard to approach an older woman and convince her?” Kawinga queries.
He is more livid when he learns about another incident where an uncle defiled his orphaned niece who had shifted to his house because of poverty in her stepmother’s home.
At 11, Hadija was innocently and submissively at his beck and call until, one night, he invaded her bedroom and did the unthinkable.
“It happened several times and he injured her in the process. His wife learnt about the girl’s experience and drove her out of the house,” the stepmother—who is the second wife to Hadija’s father—explains.
She recalls that after the multiple defilement spells, the girl began to produce a pungent smell until she tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection.
Stomach pains plagued her for weeks but she eventually recovered—with a life forever scarred by the vicious experience.
“She says he was warning her against resisting his advances. He said he would drive her out of his house. She obliged because she is young and saw her uncle’s place as better than her home,” the stepmother says.
For his man, and Nancy’s defiler, Kawinga wants stiff punishments so that a strong message travels across Machinga and surrounding areas.
That is Zaire’s other supplication.
“We will continue pushing for justice for the two girls. They don’t deserve what they went through. It is unfortunate that one of them got infected with HIV.
“In fact, even the 13-year-old should see her defiler severely punished. Both cases are with the police and we will continue following them. If it means hunting them all the way to Mozambique, we will do that,” he says and nods, in an apparent attempt to call up some self-assurance.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. He believes that quality reporting is critical in bringing positive change in communities. Alick is the Southern Africa Development Community journalist of the year (2020) in the television category. Follow him on Twitter @aponje