By Meclina Chirwa:
At 11 years, Ana has already passed through some of the most unbearable experiences in her life. She has been defiled twice by men who were otherwise supposed to be her guardians.
Two years ago, her grandfather took advantage of her parents’ separation by repeatedly defiling her when she was sent to live with him.
“Whenever, we were alone, my grandfather could force himself on me. I was feeling a lot of pain such that I could repeatedly cry. They were difficult moments for me,” says the resident of Lilongwe’s Area 25.
As is often the case with incidences of this nature, the defiler threatened the little girl that he would kill her if she dared tell anyone about the ordeal.
But eventually, she could no longer bear the pain and reported him to others who alerted the police. He was eventually arrested and sent to jail.
Due to his old age, the convict was later pardoned.
But Ana could not go back to him. She still found some comfort in her biological father’s house before things turned upside down for her again.
“My own father also defiled me. I had never expected this to happen. It was like the end of the world. Everything was crumbling down right in front of my face,” she recalls.
The pain compelled her to ignore the threats that she would be dealt with severely if she reported her father to anyone.
“I gathered courage and reported him to Malembe Community-Based Organisation (CBO). I informed two women in the organisation about my experience. At first, they were not willing to help me. Then later, they assured me they would engage authorities on my case,” she explains.
The father was arrested and is currently remanded at Maula Prison in Lilongwe.
Ana does not see herself going back to him again after the ordeal, more so when he threatened to kill her if she told anyone that he had defiled her.
“It is difficult to live with such a person again. He is my biological father, yes, but what he did to me is inhuman. It is unimaginable,” she says.
Malembe CBO Chairperson Andrew Chavula bemoans what he calls the wicked behaviour of some fathers who defile their own children.
“It is unfortunate that some men become the villains for their own children. How can a grandfather defile his own blood when all along, we take such relations as people from whom children must learn something?” he queries.
Chavula admits that Ana is traumatised and fears such trauma may haunt her for the rest of her life.
Currently, he says Ana has been put under the custody of the Malembe CBO and is going to school.
“We thought of assisting this girl with the little we get. She is staying with one of our members but we still need support for her to move forward. Relevant stakeholders must help Ana with any support including psychological cancelling.
“She has to recover from her ordeal even though we know that it is not easy. In general, we all need to come together to deal with defilement. It is a cancer that is terribly affecting young girls,” he says.
Ana’s new guardian, who lives with an extended family, acknowledges that it is not easy raising the girl as she is traumatised.
“I find it difficult to help Ana. Our family heavily depends on our grandmother. Personally, I sell chicken parts but the cash generated is not enough to sustain the family. But I know that one day God will bless me in one way or another because my intention is to ensure that Ana is well educated and forgets what she went through,” he says.
That defilement cases are increasing day by day, both documented and unknown, is a fact that cannot be disputed with United Nations’ statistics indicating that one in five girls experiences sexual abuse before attaining the age of 18.
Last year’s defilement figures in Malawi paint a gloomy picture as police records show 2019 had 192 more cases from 1,618 reported incidents than the previous year’s 1,496.
Child rights activist Lucky Mbewe has urged officials to fully implement prison terms for defilement offences which attract maximum sentence of death or life imprisonment.
Mbewe, who is also Executive Director of Centre Empowerment and Civic Education, says although Malawi has progressive child protection policies, implementation remains a huge problem.
“Defilement cases are attracting very lenient sentences but enforcement of the death or life imprisonment clause can help reduce the malpractice. It is a big disgrace for a father to defile his biological daughter. Let us do something as a country,” Mbewe says.
As she awaits justice, Ana represents several other girls who suffer in silence, not because they do not want to alert order individuals about their situations, but because society fails to pay attention to their welfare.