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Rising from the ashes of sexual abuse

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Patricia Kaliati

Elube Phiri (not real name) is a qualified nurse who graduated from one of the country’s colleges of nursing recently.

Elube is a survivor of rape and sexual abuse by a close male friend as well as her school teacher, violations that occurred when she was a teen.

Elube faced the abuse when she was only 13 while in form three at one of the secondary schools in Lilongwe.

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Growing up, she had no idea that she would have to endure such abuse.

More so because she was an intelligent girl who could also reach out to other learners at school.

Like any other child, she had girls and boys she could interact with.

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She narrates that she trusted one of her male friends, who was staying in the neighbourhood.

They could visit each other as the need arose.

On that unforgettable day, Elube went to the boy’s place for school discussions.

She was invited to enter the house. The moment she got into the house, the boy closed the door behind her and forced himself on her.

She explains that she was told that she would be killed if she shouted for help, let alone confide in anyone about what had happened to her.

“Since I was young at the time, I was terrified because we were in the dark in the house. I tried to free myself but I was overpowered and that is how I became a victim of defilement.

“This was the first time someone had sex with me. Without knowing it, that is the time I also got pregnant. It marked the genesis of problems I encountered as a teen,” Elube said.

She said days turned into weeks and weeks into months without her noticing that she was pregnant.

Elube said it took a female teacher to discover that something was wrong with her, thereafter she was taken to the hospital where tests indicated that she was pregnant.

“I was in form four at the time,” she said.

She said she could not believe the results when the doctor told her that she was seven months pregnant.

“I really didn’t know why all that was happening to me. After the boy heard that I was pregnant he run away and up to date I don’t know where he lives. As if that was not enough, my situation made one teacher to start abusing me sexually too.

“He told me that if I was to sit my exams I was supposed to be sleeping with him. This was the hardest moment of my time. And it happened that when my family knew that I was pregnant, they thought it was for this teacher but the pregnancy was not his, only that he took advantage of my situation to abuse me,” she added.

Elube says she went through a tough time when she was pregnant up until the time the child was born.

She said she sat her exams while pregnant and got 14 points.

“I could have scored better than that but I was so traumatised that I failed to concentrate on papers when sitting Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations.

“But I still thank God that I scored 14 points and I am a nurse now,” Phiri said.

“Life was very tough for me. I could ask myself questions without answers up until I met Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (Fawema), who offered to help me with my studies,” Elube said.

She said Fawema offered to pay her tuition fees and accommodation, a thing which was a thorn to her fresh, as she had to do piecework to raise funds for upkeep.

“Having received partial scholarship, I had to figure out how to raise my upkeep allowances. So, I could plait people’s hair,” she said.

Fawema Board Chairperson Hannah Chidaya said Elube is one of the organisation’s success stories.

“We are happy that we managed to help her finish her education. We are just working on how best to help her get help as she is depressed,” Chidaya said.

Ministry of Education Director of Secondary Education Florida Banda said the ministry would always support girls like Elube to attain quality education.

She said, through their re-admission policy, they were making sure that girls were meeting their education goals.

Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Disability spokesperson Fred Simwaka said the ministry is worried with rising cases of sexual abuse among girls.

“We are very worried with how girls continue to suffer at the hands of men sexually. This calls for joint efforts to end such malpractices. The law shall take its course on everyone found sexually abusing girls,” Simwaka said.

However, recently, minister responsible Patricia Kaliati indicated that there would be no respite for men found abusing women, indicating that days of violating the rights of girls and women were over.

Kaliati hailed the country’s courts for rising to the occasion, citing cases where stiffer sentences have been meted out on defilers and rapists.

Speaking when she addressed Parliament late last year, Kaliati indicated that, apart from cases of suicide, defilement and rape cases were a thorn in the government’s flesh.

Kaliati said that is why the government was allocating necessary resources, technical and financial, to help address problems that affect socio-economic development activities.

A report by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund on Ending Violence against women and girls in Malawi shows that violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a global phenomenon and Malawi is no exception.

The 2015/16 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey found that 34 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 years reported experiencing physical violence, 14 percent experienced sexual violence while 23 percent experienced emotional violence within the 12 months period prior to the survey (National Statistical Office, 2017).

This means the battle is far from being won.

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