Across the country, girls are exposed to several challenges as they strive to grow into responsible women.
But girls in Mpondasi area in Mangochi could be worse off as, on top of common challenges, they are now grappling with a new horror called ‘Handede Handede!’
At the age of 11, Atuweni (real name withheld) met the Handede Handee! brutality one night as the village was busy dancing and singing during the last initiation festive season.
A group of 10 young boys went on rampage, seeking young girls to give them their way of celebration. They met Atuweni who was let free that night, just like any other small girl in the village.
The boys took her away, gang-raped her and dumped herinagony.
This is an emerging practice that has inflicted pain, pregnancies and diseases to girls as young as 10 years old. Boys are using the practice to attack girls during the night. Like hungry wolves, they come in numbers, shouting “Handede Handede!” This is a phrase that means an offer of K100 to any willing girl to go have fun with.
However, no girl has ever returned from the ordeal with a K100 in her hand. They have returned with their hands wiping off tears, tears of broken virginity, possible pregnancies and diseases.
Five cases were recorded recently of young girls being gang-raped this way. All the culprits got away with their brutality as Village Headman Sadiki claims these ‘criminals’ come from outside the area and therefore hard to trace.
“We don’t know who these boys are and no one has ever identified any culprit; so it is difficult to take action against them,” he says.
Ibrahim Mussa is the Chairperson of Mpondasi Community Based Organisation (CBO). He supports his chief’s position on the anonymity of the gangs.
But he says there is a planned crusade in collaboration with other youth organisations around the district to fight the new phenomenon.
Mussa sympathises with the girls in his village, saying they are exposed to sexual abuses and being forced to early marriages as parents have no interest to change the practice of marrying off girls instead of sending them to school.
Even when they are raped, the issue hardly goes far in terms of seeking justice.
In the area, it is hard to trace any girl who has reached as far as college in their education. While a few have done secondary school education, many of them are not originally from this village.
The area is well known for sex tourism where men are carried on the backs of women to and from bathrooms, a simple trick that is said to attract an impressive inflow of clients for sex work service at the lakeshore village.
While government’s interventions are almost invisible in the populous village, a considerable effort is being championed by a few NGOs.
Mussa hails the efforts by Youth Net and Counseling (Yoneco) through the Unite for Body Rights (UFBR) – a multi-disciplinary Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) programme.
The programme is under an alliance involving five partners that collaboratively implement it in an effort to address focus areas in education, service delivery, and advocacy with sexual violence and gender mainstreaming outcomes.
Funny Chilembo is a project officer for Yoneco and is touched with what girls go through in Mpondasi Village.
“Mpondasi Village is very difficult because of the deep-rooted culture of recklessness. Girls are married off at very young ages and there are a lot of sexual abuses that are often hidden by the village because it is normal to them,” she says.
However, since the initiative three years ago, there has been noted some change. The initiative has involved village heads and strengthened the village’s youth club to fight the sexual abuses, teen pregnancies and school dropouts, among other issues.
Mussa agrees with Chilembo that the village is now registering more girls in schools and few pregnancies. For example, in the last term, Mpondasi Community Day Secondary School registered no pregnancy, against atleast 10 pregnancies per term before the intervention.
Village headman Sidiki says he introduced some penalties on parents whose girls marry before the age of 18, in line with the new Marriage and Divorce Act, and this has helped to have parents send the girls to school instead.
“We managed to breakup some marriages involving very young boys and girls. They are now in school. In one case, we chased a family out of the village when it insisted on marrying off their girl child,” says Sidiki.
Through the UFBR programme, Yoneco has facilitated rehabilitation of several girls with some being supported with scholarships by another initiative called Campaign for Girls Education (Camfed).
Mangochi has the lowest rate of literacy in the country at 47 percent since girls are married off at tender ages while many boys go to South Africa for economic exploits.
With the country’s poverty rate at slightly above 50 percent, districts like Mangochi need massive interventions to prevent more teen pregnancies and school dropouts.
Yoneco through the UFBR programme is fighting the issues in the district from human rights point of view, but one could tell that the environment being created would allow girls to pursue education while limiting pregnancies hence limiting poverty.
However, there is need for a massive programme that should save the girls not only from Mangochi but from all parts of the country if the fight against poverty is to bear fruits.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues