HomeColumnsFeatureGirls abandoned to the mercy of abusers

Girls abandoned to the mercy of abusers

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Many believers flock to church and other sites of worship in search of spiritual solace, renewal and upliftment.

But this common assumption is no longer true for a 15-year-old Mercy (not her real name) from Lilongwe District who was savagely raped at a church by her choir master-turned-abuser.

Earlier this year, the culprit (name withheld) visited the victim’s house around lunchtime to deliver what sounded like a harmless message superficially.

“He came to inform me that choir rehearsals would be held earlier than usual that day because he wanted to repair his pigsty later. We all believed this was the reason for the abrupt schedule change,” she says.

However, upon arrival at the church, she was surprised to see that her choir director was only playing Bawo with some strange people outside the church.

“Immediately he saw me enter the church, he followed me,” the primary school learner recalls.

According to her, after entering the place of worship, the choir director sat too close to her, making her very uncomfortable.

“I tried to move away, but he grabbed me, took off his trousers and gagged my mouth while he raped me,” she laments amid sobs and tears.

“That afternoon it was raining heavily and I tried to resist and scream for help, but to no avail. I was saved only by my two choir mates who arrived later and caught him in the act before he fled,” she says.

The victim’s mother recalls being notified about the tragedy by the two girls and says after assessing the injuries and trauma, she rushed Mercy to police before being referred to hospital for medical examination, where forced penetration was confirmed.

“Police then arrested the perpetrator and he was subsequently sentenced in court to 16 years in prison. We are relieved that Mercy’s perpetrator has paid for his bloody actions”

Angela (not her real name) is another primary school learner from the same district, but different village. She recounts a similar harrowing and horrific ordeal she suffered at the hands of her uncle, who almost shattered her dreams of becoming a nurse.

This man, she says, was a well-known village leader and lured her to his home on the pretext that he was going to a funeral with his wife and that she should look after the house.

“I trusted him because he had married my mother’s sister,” Angela says.

“But I started raising red flags when I saw him loitering aimlessly around the house at night and ordering his children to go to bed.

“Then he stormed into my room, grabbed me by the neck and raped me. I did not expect that, because I considered him as family,” she adds.

Angela managed to free herself from his strong grip and revealed to her grandmother who reported the matter to group village head (GVH) Chombwe.

“I wrote a letter to the police asking them to take urgent action on the matter,” remembers GVH Chombwe.

A medical examination also confirmed that she had indeed been defiled, but a police manhunt for the suspect is still underway after he bolted and remains at large.

Circumstantially however, both these minors were physically harmed and suffered psychological trauma requiring urgent psychosocial support to help them heal.

Angela says: “I skipped school for weeks because I was ashamed to face the community. I only returned to class after Mrs. [Doreen] Munkhondia visited me and encouraged me move on.”

Munkhondia is a child protection officer trained by World Vision to help victims of abuse with psychosocial first aid (PFA).

But while Angela received professional counselling after going through sexual abuse, many survivors do not have access to this important service.

Angela, was defiled

For example, on May 10, 2023, Chikwawa Senior Resident Magistrate’s jailed 43-year-old Petro Record to 11 years for defiling a 13-year-old girl contrary to Section 139 of the Penal Code.

Prosecutor Sub-Inspector Emmanuel Namarwa told the court that Petro defiled the minor, who suffers from mental illness.

According to the prosecutor, the girl was discovered by her mother after she started portraying signs of depression and took longer hours than usual each time she went to the bathroom.

The matter was reported to Changoima Police Unit where the victim was referred to Gaga Health Centre where a medical examination confirmed defilement.

Although completion of the case was a relief for some stakeholders that justice was served, Chikwawa District Social Welfare Officer Aaron Macheka thinks the case should go for review, arguing that the 11-year jail term for the perpetrator is not enough.

Macheka: the case should go for review

He says: “Relatives have a crucial role in protecting children and when they become perpetrators of such crimes, the punishment should be been stiffer.

“We are also not doing enough to support rape survivors. Human rights violations such as defilement trigger many questions among victims and if they are not answered it can affect them permanently.”

Mental health expert Dr. Precious Makiyi concurs with Macheka that many sexual abuse victims do not get enough psychological support in Malawi, arguing that many people do not appreciate the need for a holistic approach to rape issues.

Dr Precious Makiyi

He says getting rape victims to the hospital for physical check-ups and seeing the perpetrators punished by the law Is not enough since rape also causes emotional and physical traumatic disorders and low self-esteem, putting victims at high risk of depression and anxiety.

“Some perpetrators have underlying mental issues which need to be thoroughly addressed. So, sending them to prison does not deal with the root cause if it is a mental disorder. That is why some perpetrators commit rape crimes again even after coming back from prison,” he adds.

Nevertheless, National Police deputy spokesperson Harry Namwaza commends all stakeholders for their tireless support to law enforcers as they investigate and prosecute such crimes.

“For example, traditional leaders and community members are helping by tipping us and sometimes even apprehending perpetrators of these cases.

The courts have also been giving hefty punishments to perpetrators of these crimes once convicted, which is helping a lot as a deterrent,” notes Namwaza.

Namwaza says Malawi Police Service will continue to guard against the vice by advising parents and guardians to closely monitor their children, especially girls and to quickly report any abuse to the nearest police before the victims take a bath or before being examined by medical personnel.

He concludes: “We need to join hands in educating the masses especially those who are still ingrained in some unpalatable cultural beliefs that fuel defilement cases.

“For example, some people are cheated by herbalists that if they sleep with a minor their businesses will grow. All these perceptions need to be stopped once and for all to protect the girl child.”

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