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The curse of second wife

SILENT VICTIM— One of the girls

At first, she noticed a change in her father’s behaviour. His affection for her grew but her siblings did not suspect anything fishy because she was the oldest sister in the family.

In fact, as a 15-year-old girl, she thought her father was being responsible.

For ethical reasons, we will call the girl Mary. Mary has been a victim of rape perpetrated by her father.

She explains that one afternoon her father approached her, asking her to help him solve a problem. He told her that the family had a problem whose solution was her. She did not expect that the solution would require her to be sleeping with her father.

“He [her father] asked me if I could be at peace seeing him and my mother in trouble because of me. I said no. Later on, he said he had agreed with my mother that he should be sleeping with me in order to solve a big problem which was threatening stability of the family,” Mary says.

One night, the father visited the house Mary was seeking shelter in but Mary opposed his moves and threatened to reveal the ordeal to her mother.

“In fact, I told him to tell my mother to tell me about the arrangement herself,” she says.

Tired of being pestered by the father, Mary decided to approach her mother, hopeful that she would come to her rescue. She was in for a shock!

The mother told her that the father wanted to be sleeping with her because she [the mother] stopped him from marrying a second wife.

“I was told that my father wanted to marry a second wife but my mother refused for fear of losing him. As a result, they agreed that, whenever he wants to sleep with a different woman apart from my mother, he should be sleeping with me,” she adds.

That is how sexual intercourse between daughter and father became a routine.

Despite not being pregnant, she dropped out of school because she says she could not concentrate on her studies due to the burden she was carrying in her head.

“At first, I did not know where to report the issue. One day, I gathered enough courage and told my friend who is a member of a youth club. But little was done because the youth group members were afraid of being harmed,” she says.

Later, they, too, gathered enough courage to approach Mary’s mother. This, however, did not go down well with the father, who stopped giving Mary basic needs. He also reduced the frequency of visits to Mary’s room.

Today, Mary is a paragon of confusion and hopelessness. Even when in the company of other girls, she displays signs of trauma. She is a traumatised person who is not sure about her future. She does not seem to have confidence that can help her to succeed in her education. Her future hangs in the balance.

Sadly, cases of this nature are common in Machinga District. Surprisingly, most of the cases go unreported.

Another 16-year-old girl (name withheld) from Tembo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A)Liwonde, testifies that she has been sleeping with her father on the understanding that, that way, the father will not marry a second wife.

But, like many such cases, her ordeal, too, is treated casually in an area that condones such practices.

Just recently, this time in Balaka District, police arrested a couple for allegedly allowing the father to sleep with their 17-year-old daughter in the belief that doing so would help them save their newly bought cow from thieves.

But, unlike in the Balaka case, where the couple was arrested, Machinga fathers continue to enjoy their own ‘fruits’ in bed, all in the name of avoiding the trap called polygamy.

When contacted, both Village Headman Tembo and T/A Liwonde confirmed handling cases of fathers who are reported to have slept with their biological or step daughters for various reasons.

But the chiefs blame polygamy culture as well as an increase of female-headed households as some of the reasons exposing girls to parental rape.

“Women are no longer interested in polygamy. As such, if the husband insists on marrying a second wife, daughters are thrown in as an alternative. This is common. We hear of such cases but, sometimes, when we try to intervene, the victims do not want to share their experiences,” Liwonde says.

Last year, Machinga Police registered the highest number (102) of sexual offenses in the Eastern Region.

Of these, about 80 cases— representing 78 percent—bordered on defilement, incest and rape.

“The victims were largely girls aged 18 years or below. We believe some cultural and traditional beliefs are behind the increase in defilement and incest,” says Machinga Police spokesperson, Davie Sulumba.

He, however, faults girls and traditional leaders for keeping such issues under wraps.

Machinga District Gender Development Officer, Macmillan Magomero, wants more resources to go towards the protection of girls and other vulnerable children in the district.

Magomero further asks parents to play their rightful role in protecting children.

“Forcing a child into a sexual relationship is a crime. We need to join forces in enlightening people about the dangers of engaging into practices that, although regarded as part of culture, are against the law,” Magomero says.

He agrees with local chiefs that polygamy has left some children vulnerable to the shenanigans of fathers and mothers— more so because, apart from being exposed to sexual assault and sexually transmitted diseases, girls are left to fend for themselves, a duty which, constitutionally, rests in the hands of parents.

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