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Heartless defilement in the Kraal

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Every day, Elizabeth (real name withheld) went to a video show to watch Nigerian movies.

Wearing her favourite red flowered summer dress, popularly known as ‘Spaghetti’ and a Khanga wrapper, she walked a distance of 300 metres to the video show.

The black beauty complexioned innocent looking Elizabeth is deaf and cannot speak.

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The video show visits was one of her tactics to beat boredom at home. She had not been to school this term. Her mother failed to raise K10, 000 for school fees.

Elizabeth has been raised by a single parent after her father died many years ago. Her home is so impoverished; they survive on her mothers’ piecework income.

Instructing Elizabeth to wait until next term was the only way out as things were very hard in the home. Little had the mother known that Eliza’s absenteeism from school would bring in more trouble to the household.

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As she frequented the video show premises, the owner, Thom Wikwanga, developed sexual feelings towards her. He did not mind that she was only 13 years old or that she could not talk and was deaf. All he thought was that she was ripe for sex.

He coaxed her to his house, and defiled her. Eliza tried to escape but failed. Her clothes were torn in her struggle to run away. Wikwanga threatened that if she told anyone, he would cut off her neck or she could be arrested.

Elizabeth’s mother, Nyankhonde says even though Wikwanga did this, he is married and is a father of eleven children.

She explains that Elizabeth was a Standard Five student at Karonga School for the Deaf, but she could not go to school this term on financial grounds.

Nyankhonde carries 20 buckets of sand per day which earns her K1, 400 a day, but this is not enough to cater for her family needs. Apart from her last-born daughter, Elizabeth, she is also raising her other daughter’s two children.

“The Parents’ Teacher Association[PTA] agreed that any parent that has not paid school fees should not dare send their children to school; so going by this, I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter or myself. I had to wait,” she narrates.

Nyankhonde says she had no idea of what her daughter was going through, but all she knew was that she was bored at home alone.

The video show set up contains lots of people comprising men and women, girls and boys. Rape or defilement cases are a very rare incident especially because Eliza went there during the day and was at home at night.

“I noticed that her breasts got strangely bigger. I asked her if she was pregnant but she dismissed my suspicions. I assigned my friends to probe her further. She revealed that Wikwanga defiled her repeatedly. She even identified him,” Nyankhonde recalls.

She remembers: “This happened in 2016 when Eliza was in Standard Five. Whilst my friend was explaining this to me, the perpetrator was passing by. I felt lots of pain… My body developed goose bumps… he is an old married man with eleven children. I cried in disbelief…”

Nyankhonde’s siblings reported the matter to the village headman but he failed to pass judgment. Wikwenga was one of his right-hand assistants. He claimed that the issue was too big for him to handle and therefore, he mandated them to report anywhere they wanted.

When they went to the police, they were asked to go to the hospital for tests. The hospital did an ultrasound which indicated that Elizabeth was three months and two weeks pregnant.

They presented the results and Wikwenga was arrested. But he refused to have ever had sex with Elizabeth. He alleged that it was not him who defiled the girl but his friend.

But when the friend was brought to the station, Elizabeth insisted that it was Wikwenga who defiled her and not the friend because she did not know him. All the investigations and questioning of this case was done with the assistance of sign language interpreters from Elizabeth’s school.

Elizabeth produced the clothes (torn during the first time Wikwenga defiled her) before the police as evidence. “I was shocked to hear the revelations. He first defiled her at a corner in his house. Then the second time in a cattle’s kraal and outside his house where he was washing his clothes on that day. The police also interrogated my friends separately and they told the same story.”

“When my daughter was asked why she didn’t tell anyone about all this, she said

Wikwenga threatened to cut off her neck if she ever tried that or the police would arrest her. Wikwenga also gave my daughter K200 the first time he raped her. K200 on the second time and a K100 on the third time,” Nyankhonde explains.

She does not hide the fact that she was so stressed throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy. She was not sure of how her vulnerable daughter would be able to deliver a normal baby.

Nyankhonde recalls having dreams about her daughter’s delivery, where she heard some voice advising her to name the child Emmanuel, if it happens to be a boy.

But Nyankhonde is now all smiles: “I named this child Emmanuel meaning God is with us. God has been merciful to me. I didn’t know that my child with a double calamity would give birth to a child without problems. I am very poor but trying to help her. I’m helping her to breastfeed and hold the baby.”

She however insists that she has not forgiven the man who did this to her daughter and he deserves the sentence he got.

“If he had admitted to wrong doing, I would have forgiven him. He jeopardised my daughter’s future. My plan was to have my child attain education and become independent in future. I have been trying to make ends meet and pay for her school fees. I thought she could be self-reliant and not feel the pinch of my absence even when I’m dead,” Nyankhonde laments, whilst holding her grandson who is wrapped in a pink baby receiver blanket.

Elizabeth’s Teacher, Jane Mhango, says she was surprised to hear that Elizabeth was pregnant.

Elizabeth has been a very obedient, well-disciplined girl throughout. I’m so touched that this happened to her whilst she was at home.

Mhango says the PTA agreed that every parent has to ensure that they have paid school fees at the beginning of each term, without which they should not send their child to school.

But, she says, the PTA is enforcing that without the approval of the school. Management discouraged this considering that there are other parents who cannot raise such an amount at once but would manage to pay in instalments.

“Most children at Karonga School for the Deaf are from broken families. This is the case because their fathers abandoned their mothers upon learning that they have given birth to a disabled child,” Mhango notes.

The teacher admits that the school has learnt so many lessons from Elizabeth’s ordeal, saying it will work on the communication between parents and the school, but Elizabeth is free to return to school.

Meanwhile, Wikwenga is serving a 12-year jail term after he was found guilty of defiling Eliza, who happens to have a double vulnerability of being deaf and having speech impairment.

Executive Director for Centre for Children’s Affairs, Moses Busha, says it is unfortunate that people are taking advantage of people with disabilities.

He describes this as being inhuman and argues that stiff action should be taken, saying other courts need to learn from Karonga courts and give stiffer punishments to people like Wikwenga.

“A sound minded person can’t defile a child with double problems like that repeatedly. It’s even worse that he threatened to deal with the child should she tell anyone. We never know may be this girl would be infected with STIs or even HIV. This means that her problems have multiplied,” Busha says, commending the court for slapping the perpetrator with lots of years of imprisonment with hard labour.

He reveals that his organisation has received similar cases which it has helped to pursue up to the end saying, “There are lots of cases happening out there but communities are concealing them for fear of jeopardising relationships in their communities.

One in every five girls was sexually abused before their 18th birthday. This is according to Violence against Children (VACs) report of 2015.

This report was the first nationally representative examination of the problem of violence against children. It observes that violence against children (in Malawi) has become a social norm in most communities across the country. Service seeking behaviour of the victims (like what Elizabeth did) is also rare because of the social norm which seems to have settled in most communities.

Malawi Human Rights Commission report of 2015 says the maximum penalty for rape is death or life imprisonment, but the courts generally imposed fixed prison sentences.

For Elizabeth and her mother, it is a relief that Wikwenga was jailed; but the battle seem to have just begun as his family members feel their relation did not deserve to be imprisoned for defilement.

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