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To tame men on the prowl

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CHIHANA —The suspect is in custody

Immediately after Ivy celebrated her 13th birthday, someone introduced her to the folk of mothers against her will.

The standard three dropout was allegedly defiled by one David Chirambo, 40, who comes from her area in Rumphi District.

Ivy—who suffers from epilepsy—was hopeful of getting educated to a level where her dream of becoming a police officer would finally come to pass.

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Now, what she sees with her mind’s eye is a blurred future which began to fragment the day her mother sent her to buy food items at a trading centre where the alleged defiler works as a maize mill attendant.

It was around 4 in the evening when she was despoiled.

“Chirambo invited me to his house which is behind the maize mill. He said he wanted to give me money with which I could buy something for him,” Ivy recalls.

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She has grown up knowing the suspect as a noble man and never imagined he would ever harm her. Thus, she followed him to his house and got inside, as told by someone who would later defile her.

“Inside the house, he forced himself on me. When he was done, he gave me K300 and warned me against telling anyone about what he had done. He threatened that he would kill me and I kept quiet,” Ivy says, a distant look registering in her glistening eyes.

But she could not keep the secret forever. As days rolled into weeks and weeks into months, there was noticeable change in her physical appearance.

Her mother Joyce noticed the transformation and sought a way of pinning her down to reveal what had happened to her.

“She was spending a lot of time sleeping and looked weak. I wanted to take her to hospital but she refused, saying she was alright. Her eating habits changed too. I approached a friend who was told that Ivy was pregnant for Chirambo,” says the 32-year-old mother.

Apparently, the suspect repetitively pressed the teen girl to abort the pregnancy, promising he would marry her after she turned 18.

“He twice gave me some pills for inducing the abortion but I refused to take them because I was afraid of complications which could eventually kill me,” says Ivy.

Joyce, mindful of the struggles her family of eight children daily encounters and more that Ivy’s status would bring, took the matter to Chikulamayembe Women Forum for direction.

The forum, which is supported by ActionAid Malawi, became earnestly interested in Ivy’s case which fitted in its affairs of promoting women’s rights and fighting gender-based violence.

“We first counselled the parents on how they could treat the child considering that she is young and is traumatised. We also helped the family to seek legal redress and the matter is now with the courts,” says the forum’s programmes coordinator Regina Chihana.

Chikulamayembe Women Forum has been keenly following the case being heard at Rumphi Magistrates’ Court by providing transport and other needs to ensure Ivy gets justice.

“The suspect is in custody waiting for judgement. If he is found guilty, we pray for a very stiff punishment because cases of gender-based violence are getting out of hand. Stiff punishments should send strong lessons to others,” Chihana says.

That is Ivy’s wish too.

She states: “He should be severely punished. I am living in fear because I don’t know what will happen to me. My body is not mature yet. I can’t go to school because of what he did to me.”

In essence, Ivy’s case mirrors what hundreds other girls face in their day-to-day lives as men on the prowl seem to still have little to put them off.

At the end of last year, statistics with the police and social welfare offices bluntly cast a dark shadow on Malawi’s propensity to protect girls.

The Malawi Police Service reported that it had received 1,440 defilement cases between January and October 2019 and 1,738 during the same period last year.

The surge, according to child-protection activists and experts, might have excepted dozens other cases that are never reported to relevant institutions.

Thus, Vice-President Saulos Chilima, during the commemoration of the World Human Rights Day earlier last month, indicated that, ultimately, dealing with the problem requires drastic mindset change.

“The tragedy of it all is that sometimes the people who are supposed to be protectors of rights of vulnerable populations end up violating them. The responsibility of upholding and protecting human rights lies with us all,” Chilima said.

And for girls like Ivy, more hope lies in the work of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, which is reportedly working on amending the Penal Code to stiffen punishments for rape and defilement convicts, subject to Parliament approval.

They also mutter hushed supplications that courts will exercise their discretion to ‘ruthlessly’ punish perpetrators of these crimes.

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