Where Is Our Country Heading?
- Sellina Kanyerere-Mkweteza, Malawi
The writer works as a Grants Administration Specialist for the Gender and Women Empowerment (GEWE) Project under the Development Aid from People to People (DAPP, Malawi).
“ ‘If you tell your mother, you will die instantly,’ the stepfather sternly warned her.”
Gender-based violence is a practice that tortures many souls, especially the souls of young girls and women. They are forced into early marriages because the parents have been given money or material gains on their children’s heads.
In Chiradzulu district in the Southern part of Malawi, women and girls do not find travel amusing or exciting. They hide their heads down because they are ashamed of what befell other little girls of school-going age.
A day that started wonderfully for a young girl of eleven years became a week that ended gruesomely with her untimely demise. She lived with her stepfather in one of the rural areas in the southern part of the country, not knowing what would befall her on this fateful day.
Early in the month of April 2013, the girl’s mother was away on her small, business-as-usual routine when the step father called her into the house. As usual the girl knelt down to respond to the father’s call, when suddenly she was forcefully grabbed and raped during daylight. “If you tell your mother, you will die instantly,’’ the stepfather sternly warned her.
Days passed and pain grew in her tender inside muscles, which were torn by the forced rape. She could not bear the pain anymore; as a result days passed without her attending school. Should she tell her mother? Fear grew in her, but because of the pain she had no choice. She told her mother of her ordeal. The mother gave her painkillers and told her not to disclose to anyone, because doing so would jeopardize her marriage to the stepfather.
When school friends visited the house to find out why their friend was not going to school, the mother told them she wasn’t feeling well. Soon the girl could no longer walk, and one strong woman in the village wanted to know more about her absence from her many activities. That is when the mother revealed to her friend what her girl was going through. Quickly women assembled and took the girl to a district hospital, where it was revealed that she had developed fistula due to the torn muscles, which had already started rotting.
The doctors worked on the girl and made sure she received appropriate medication and help, but it was too late. That night she went into a coma, and after a week she died.
When the mother was quizzed by the doctors she revealed what the father had been doing, that the girl had told her but she was afraid to lose her marriage. The police were called right away and started a manhunt together with the village community.
This story was an awakening to the village chief, who right away sent his men for a bigger manhunt. The man was tipped off by his family and run to the nearest border, to Mozambique. After many tips, on June 2nd 2013, the man was apprehended by the police and put into custody after he confessed his brutal act.
But is this going to be the last brutal act? I do not know. Does it mean that girls and women are now safe? I do not think so. Even if the girl had survived this ordeal, how sure are we that she could not have contracted the deadly monster HIV/AIDS or any other sexually transmitted infections from this cruel stepfather?
With funding from various donors, our government has started projects that protect women and children in the country in order to mitigate and eliminate such acts. Men and women are provided with awareness and training in gender-based violence case management.
When a child is born, there is great ululation among the women and joy overtakes all the sorrow. When a child is lost because some people lack self-control, that is killing the joy of the women when they give birth to a girl child.
This is a true story. My hope is that there will be more programmes to help women become more assertive, to speak up when something happens that affects their lives and that of their children, whether girl or boy, because boys are equally vulnerable groups. It is our duty as loving citizens of our various countries to talk about these issues so they are known and we can have the culprits brought to book.