By Steven Mkweteza:
In February 2017, Marita Phoso of Magulugulu Village, Traditional Authority Malemia in Nsanje District had just returned from school when her mother told her that she would leave for Blantyre, to stay with her uncle.
According to Marita, her mother explained that she could no longer manage to send her to school and fend for her.
“Obviously, I was excited and took this as a blessing in disguise as I was struggling to pursue my education and dreams of becoming a nurse later,” the now 18-year-old Marita said.
She narrated that her uncle, who was living in the shanty area of Mbayani Township in Blantyre, had almost everything needed to support her education pursuits, looking at his financial status and kind of job he had. This, according to her, offered a ray of hope that her life could be transformed.
Marita lost her father a long time ago and all that she is left with are fading, distant memories.
According to Marita’s mother, the death of her husband compounded her problems. She said she was left with the responsibility of caring for seven children on her own and three daughters her deceased sister left.
“The situation was made even worse by the fact that our only surviving hope was a very old grandmother, who could hardly be depended upon as the other breadwinner,” she said, wearing a brave face that hid the turbulent times she has been through.
As a result, Marita was nearly forced out of school so that she could join her sisters in doing odd jobs to supplement the family’s meagre income.
But little did she know that her mother’s decision to relocate her was a passport from a fruitful education career dream to unwanted teen motherhood.
Just some few months in Blantyre, Marita said her 38 year-old uncle forcibly initiated a secret love affair with her, in exchange for the support he was rendering such as good schools, fashionable and expensive clothes, devices, money and social entertainment, among others.
She suffered several abuses in silence. She said she was, for multiple times, infected with Sexually Transmitted diseases, which eventually, affected her performance in class as she could not follow lessons while traumatised.
She never dared to report the abuses, heeding her uncle’s misleading advice that doing so would put the family in disrepute.
“He was a beast. Apart from abusing me in various ways, he also, for several times, forced me to conceal pregnancy for fear of her wife’s reaction,
“He also threatened to confiscate all he had bought me and send me back home, as a way of convincing me not to. In the end, frustrated as I was, and considering the abject poverty back in my home village, I could just give in to his demand,” Marita said, with tears in her eyes.
Marita fell pregnant just before she had taken her end of term Standard Eight examinations.
In the meantime, she is back home, nursing her daughter as well as helping her mother in her vegetable business.
While education is believed to be the greatest privilege a person can have in life, this is proving to be just a nightmare for many children, especially those children who have lost parents. Each and every day messages are disseminated widely about the rights of children but people are giving these messages a deaf ear and many children are being violated.
Research shows that children are still subjected to physical, mental and emotional abuse. Some become victims of sexual assault either by their peers or adults who take advantage of their situation.
This is despite the country taking several steps to contain the situation through enactment of, among others, the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act (2010) and enforcement of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (2000).
Furthermore, the country is also one of the signatories to the various international instruments.
According to experts, poor implementation of such registrations prevents children from realising and exercising their rights as human beings, such as rights to life and education.
According to a baseline survey which was conducted by Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA), and its partners between 2016 and 2017,about 540 children were sexually abused in Blantyre and their cases were reported at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, through its One Stop Centre.
CHREAA’s Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Sphiwe Malihera said to make matters worse, the wheels of justice have been rolling slower than anticipated, such that 90 percent of the cases have not been concluded in the courts.
In addition, Malihera said the findings indicate that most perpetrators of sexual abuse are parents or relatives of the victims.
“Often, when the perpetrator is a relative to the victims, the case is not reported. Sometimes parents of the victims are not aware of the law; hence they opt to keep cases of abuses to themselves,”
He added that his organisation is implementing what it calls “Access to paralegal services” project at the One Stop Centre, in which they are engaging children to know all forms of sexual abuse and systems of reporting sexual abuse.
“We are hoping, therefore, that if we educate these children they will be telling their parents to report or they can report on their own,” he said
At Mbayani Primary School, for example, where the organisation took the campaign to, some pupils conceded to have been sexually abused in areas they live in.
Child Protection Officer in the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, Beatrice Maharu, said it was pleasing that traditional leaders are also playing a key role in making sure that parents are fully engaged.
“We will make sure that the objectives of this project are fulfilled so that girls, especially, are empowered to contribute to the development of our country,” she said.
Senior Chief Kapeni bemoaned the tendency of those who deliberately abuse orphans, knowing they have nowhere to take their cases to.
Kapeni added that the absence of stiff punishment to perpetrators of such malpractices is hindering the efforts to curb the problem.
“Engaging in relationships with your child is totally wrong. Parent’s role is to help children have a good future. Therefore, Seductive parents or guardians deserve severe punishment. Should they again found abusing children, they will surely severely punished,” he warned.
The dream is not entirely lost however when it comes to Marita’s quest to attain education and become a nurse. She said given another chance, she would rather be in a classroom as only a proper education can help her scale greater heights and sustain her life and that of her loved ones.