Zambia – High poverty levels bar defilers to face law
Pic: Courtesy of Radio Chikuni
by Mazuba Mwiinga
MONZE – Jairos Mudenda (not his real name) a local class teacher at a rural school 10Km East of the town of Monze, walked out of a grass thatched house smiling as he headed to his home. He was a free man.
In the house two men and a woman remained, looking at a few Zambian bank notes on the table which Jairos left. It was a meeting which concluded that Jairos be fined Eight Hundred Thousand Kwacha (about US$160) for sexually abusing their 10 year old niece.
At ten, most school going girls put their trust in their teachers for guidance in all sectors of life. But for Beatrice (not her real name), her innocent closeness to her male class teacher at her school Kasaka Basic School in Monze District of Southern Zambia, rather became a boomerang. The teacher sexually abused her in his office.
But to the teacher’s shock, the little girl reported the abuse soon after it happened, thanks for the knowledge she got from a traditional teacher known as Alangizi.
“She is a very beautiful little girl; light in complexion and very attractive. At school she is the class monitor and has had regular visits to the male class teacher’s office collecting and taking books. That could have been the reason the teacher got tempted” Monze traditional teacher Linah Chiyaama narrates.
Its not all ten year olds who would find it so easy to report such issues as perpetrators are often so close to victims and promises victims all sorts of things to keep the abuse silent. But for this little girl it seems the very opposite happened because of the prior knowledge she had over sexual abuse.
“A month before the abuse happened, I was invited to the school by one of the female teachers to give a talk to primary school girls about sexual abuse. So I had told the pupils that if a man touches your breasts or your private parts or buttocks its wrong and that if he pulls something that looks like a snake from his pants and ‘bites’ it on your private parts that’s totally wrong and you should immediately tell any female teacher or the police or your parents”, Chiyaama explains.
When she was mentoring the children Chiyaama was somehow uncomfortable looking at the age of the little girls she was trying to impart the knowledge about something to do with sex.
“I wasn’t sure whether I was doing the right thing until a month later when I was summoned to the school by the same female teacher who had invited me to give a talk a month earlier. When I reached I was told that this girl had just told the female teacher that her male class teacher has ‘torched’ her with his ‘snake’ on her private parts” Chiyaama reveals.
When they checked the girl’s private parts, they found semen and immediately took her to a near by Mwanza Health Centre after informing the head master of the school. From the clinic the little girl was taken to a near by Police post and the alleged abuser was apprehended later in the day.
“To my shock the guardians to the girl rushed to the Police Post and demanded that they talk to the teacher and they withdrew the case requesting that it be resolved outside the law”, Chiyaama disappointedly says. It was later discovered that, the uncles and aunt to the girl agreed that Jairos pay K800, 000 which he did the following day and went back to class as if nothing had hapened.
Among Zambia’s children, this is a disturbingly common story. Even as the country races to adopt many of the developed world's norms for children, from universal education to limits on child labor, child sexual abuse remains doggedly difficult to eliminate.
Though the law punishes an offender with a minimum sentence of 15 years in jail when found guilty, many cases go un-reported, and those which get to the Police files many of them end up being withdrawn by victims’ relatives in preference for outside court settlements.
Law and Development Association (LADA) area Para-legal Officer Oliver Mwiinga says that statistics are sparse but that in Capital Lusaka, the Central Police Victim Support Unit in 2006 recorded about 754 cases of defilement, a figure, which was too high.
Mr. Mwiinga further says that the global economic down turn that has settled down with hunger and poverty, forces relatives of sexually abused children resort to financial payments rather than pursuing the matters in court making the work of child sexual abuse advocates much harder.
“We always urge them to look at the life of the child first, but in most cases many of them get compromised with financial gains because of poverty especially when the perpetrator is well to do or is of high status in society”, Mwiinga says.
University Teaching Hospital (UTH) pediatrician Dr Eugenia Chomba said that one in every five children is sexually abused worldwide and that 30 per cent of sexual offences were usually committed by relatives and 60 per cent by teachers, step-fathers and colleagues and 10 per cent by strangers.
As a mitigation measure, Beatrice’s guardians after getting the money sent her to her mother in another town, not knowing or caring how the abuse settled in with her life.
“As local child sexual abuse advocates, we are still pushing for this matter to be brought back to the Police until we see it in court. We hear the Head teacher is planning to transfer the perpetrator, but we will go to the Education District officials to have him back to face the consequences”, Chiyaama vowed.
LADA advocate Oliver Mwiinga says: “It’s wrong for the Police to allow such a case to be withdrawn even before it goes to court. Whoever allowed that should be charged as an accomplice. This is a minor we are talking about and the law clearly protects children from such”.
If poverty is to go by as the enemy that continues to keep perpetrators of child sexual abuse on loose, then Zambia with her rural poverty levels at as high as 80 % and urban levels at above 70%, more stringent measures to protect the lives of minors therefore need to be urgently formulated and implemented.
Copyright Mazuba Mwiinga 2009. 29.10.