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Let children live

I met Angela, a pretty teenager in the neighborhood where I was doing my social responsibility work. I spent four days with her and I noticed there was something strange about her behavior. She behaved more like a troubled adult who had resorted to drinking to drown her sorrows and her negative comments about men aroused my inquisitiveness. I wanted to know more about her life. Although she was hesitant at first she finally agreed to anonymously give her side of a story.
Had anyone met Angela (name withheld) three years ago, they could have just met a 13 year- old child full of life, dreams and aspirations.
However, Angela’s ambitions were shattered when she was defiled by a 30 year- old man within her neighborhood.
Her worst nightmare was when her parents decided to settle for money rather than prosecuting the perpetrator of the defilement.
Meeting Angela today, one needs no explanation of what she does. Her behavior and her nude dressing sum it all up. She is a prostitute.
While many young girls like Angela get into prostitution because of poverty and at times peer pressure, Angela’s reason is different.
She says she decided to become a prostitute because she felt her dignity was ‘sold’ off when her parents quietly settled the defilement case outside court and charged the perpetrator K5 million (about US$1,000).
For Angela money has become a more important part of her life than anything else.
“You know it’s painful I was a virgin when I was defiled and when I heard that the man would rot in jail I felt some form of relief that I would not be seeing the animal that hurt me so much,” described Angela. At that point Angela decided to turn to prostitution for money because she had nothing to lose.
When Angela was defiled, a medical report indicated that she had contracted a Sexually Transmitted Disease little did she know that she was equally infected with HIV.
“I never thought I would be HIV positive at all in my life, my dreams where shattered. I feel worthless, and I find comfort in drinking and having sex with other ‘beasts’,” explained Angela while sobbing.
''I would meet the man moving freely like nothing happened, I felt my pride had been sold and I felt money was more important to my parents than my life and the worst was when I discovered I was HIV positive, I moaned for my life and I decided to make money by using my body, I have nothing to lose,'' says Angela.
Angela says at the time of her defilement she was in grade seven but did not make it to grade eight and that’s how she dropped out of school.
''Why should I struggle with school when I may not even enjoy my sweat, I don't need school,'' says the visibly frustrated Angela.

Angela’s case is just one of the many untold stories in Zambia today. No day passes without headlines, like;
“Man defiles a four months baby,”
“Step father defiles 14 year-old daughter,’’
“Man convicted for defilement.”
Defilement in the Zambian constitution is defined as having carnal knowledge of any person below the age of 16.
A thousand more children in Zambia today share Angela’s pain, while circumstances may not be similar but defilement in Zambia has reached alarming levels.
The most common cases of defilement are that of men defiling girls, although there are some cases were women have also been convicted for defiling boys, but these are rare cases.
One of the reasons advanced for the escalating cases of defilement is the widespread belief by traditional healers that having sex with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS.
According to the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), two children are defiled almost on a weekly basis.
The courts hears at least three to four defilement cases per day compared to past years when defilement cases only came before the courts about once every three months.
Police records shows that 1,089 defilement cases and 75 rape cases were recorded last year in Lusaka alone and this has worried the Chief Justice Ernest Sakala.
Other statistics indicate that 1,939 cases of defilement were recorded in 2011 countrywide with 511 convicted, 33 were acquitted and 329 cases are still active in court while 1003 cases are reported not to have been taken to court.
Justice Sakala has revealed that sexual offences such as defilement topped the list of convicted persons in Zambian prisons despite the stiff laws in place.
He has said that it was worrying that despite the enactment of the Sexual Offences Minimum Act, which prescribed a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 to a maximum of life imprisonment for sexual offences, perpetrators have continued.
Justice Sakala has since called for a holistic approach to seek a lasting solution to the problem of defilement.
Traditional Health Practitioner’s Association of Zambia (THAPAZ) leader Dr Rodwell Vongo admits that most HIV/AIDS patients are getting wrong advice from the healers. He says his association has already started investigations by interviewing culprits facing defilement charges, in order to establish the names of healers who have spread this mis-information to face the law.
“Its saddening that some people claiming to be healers are giving false information on HIV/AIDS cure, surely what is wrong with people, who have they heard that has been cured by sleeping with a minor?’’ Vongo asked.
Dr Vongo has also attributed the high cases of defilement to the mushrooming of illegal sale of traditional Viagra.
Of late there have been influxes of unregistered traditional healers who are selling traditional Viagra in the country.
Dr Vongo says out of the forty thousand traditional practitioners in the country, only twenty six are authentic members and the association will soon start a clear campaign of the illegal healers.
Another reason that has seen men sleeping with children even as young as four months is rituals, wanting to get rich through rituals. Again the blame falls on traditional healers who are the prescribers of this new ritual of having sex with minors to get rich.
Defilement leaves long-term psycho-somatic problems like extreme fear, anxiety and nightmares for children.
More often the perpetrators of defilement are those that are HIV positive and end up infecting the innocent children, leaving them devastated.
With stiffer punishment failing to deter culprits, numerous Non-Governmental Organizations have embarked on a campaign to end the defiling of children.
The NGOS are calling for the parading and castration of the offenders to prevent the scourge from continuing.
Police say many cases of defilement have gone unreported. Some of the defilement cases happen with close relatives and more often family members resort to be quiet about it for fear of ridicule and victimization.
Even those bold enough sometimes withdraw the cases from the police. This trend has worried the police and the Inspector General of police Stella Libongani has warned against withdrawing of defilement cases.
The inspector general says anyone that will withdrawal a case of defilement will face the wrath of the law.
“No none should withdraw a case involving defilement, it should be left to the courts to determine whether the suspect is guilty or innocent. The settling of these matters outside court is has led to the continued defiling of children because the culprits know that the matter can be resolved outside court,” says Libogani.
The chief Justice have also echoed Libogani’s remarks and has since warned the judiciary to be very professional when handling defilement cases and not to show lenience if the culprit is found guilty.
He has also called for accelerated disposal of defilement cases so that evidence is not tampered with by some corrupt investigators.
Poverty has forced many families to resolve defilement matters outside court.
Many families like Angela’s cannot resist the temptation of exchanging money for the dignity and pride of their children.
Others claim that they don’t have the money to hire good lawyers to represent them in court and this has resulted in culprits being acquitted even when evidence clearly shows that they are guilty. Families who can’t afford lawyers also can’t afford to waste time in court, they would rather settle for money illegally.
While attempts to ensure that the culprits are brought to book for the offenses of child defilement, the issue is how will society prevent future occurrences of defilement?
Non-Governmental Organisations have embarked on sensitizing communities on reporting all forms of abuse against children to the police to avoid continued occurrence of abuse of children especially defilement.
Some NGOs have a programme which requires periodical meetings with parents and guardians to give them tips on how to detect any form of abuse among children in a home and to remind them to strictly watch over their children, especially girls, and not to leave them alone in the custody of male relatives or friends.
The judiciary has also come up with the legal aid board to enable the weaker members of society to have good lawyers that can be represent them at no fee.
The health sector and the Traditional Healers Association are equally sensitizing the community on false information that sex with a child cure AIDS.
Billboards are over towns carrying messages of protecting children against defilement.
It is the hope of every parent that all the efforts made to combat defilement can deter culprits and children can once more can enjoy their childhood without fear and say “We are the world.”

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

BlueSky's picture

Gripping Story

I was glued to the screen the entire way through Chinemu. You did a wonderful job of getting me to empathize with 'Angela's' tragic story. The way you tell it causes the cure to burn within, and all who read it will want to join in the fight against these evil healers, and their more than eager patients, and as you say, support efforts to combat defilement across the board, beginning within their own families. This issue needs to become personal for all of us, for our future's sake.

Best to you,

BlueSky

Chinemu's picture

Indeed it starts with family

Indeed this problem needs to be personal, if we have to win the fight.

MaDube's picture

My sister

I identify with everyone of the issues you raise above because we have exactly the same issues happening in Zimbabwe. There is the belief that sleeping with a virgin or an albino cures AIDS. The belief that sleeping with a child makes one rich. The fake fortune tellers who want children to be used as sacrifices for people to get rich. It is all happening here as well. Fortunately from my understanding, the courts in Zimbabwe and the police have taken a very robust approach to apprehend such offenders and to prosecute them as well. I am always very appalled by parents or guardians who settle out of court in such cases totally ignoring the criminality of the act. See what happened to the Moroccan girl who killed herself for being forced to marry her rapist. It is why girls like Angela would turn out the way she did. I hope things improve soon in Zambia and well done to you for bringing out this important issue.

Best,

MaDube

Chinemu's picture

Thanks MaDube

Thanks sister, its really sad that people can be so inhuman to do such things to children, nowadays you can't even trust your own brother, your own father even your own husband, its shameful

noreens's picture

This is so sad. And you

This is so sad. And you wrote in a way that made me want to keep reading. I hope things will change because no child should have to suffer.

Noreen

Chinemu's picture

Thanks Sister

Thanks Noreen, I pray for a day when children will enjoy their childhood

usha kc's picture

Dear Chinemu,, it's shocking

Dear Chinemu,, it's shocking to know about this issue. You have spoken up fo very crucial topic.
Thank you so much dear sister.

Chinemu's picture

Its shocking

Its shocking indeed how some people sink so low to think a virgin is a remedy to HIV/AIDS and getting rich, I fail to understand

Ruth Beedle's picture

This is not just heart

This is not just heart breaking, it is nauseating to think of men who would try to purge themselves - purify themselves - by the ransacking of even a tiny baby's innocence and fragile body. It is hard not to build up a huge hate for these creatures and wish the worst the land can offer. And I must remember that those who torture have been tortured in some way. Or lied to. And I want those healers to also pay some price.
My heart goes out to you and to everyone affected by this.

One thought...... it would have been profoundly effective and affecting to end your story with something about Angela and maybe something that is being done for her.

R

mrbeckbeck's picture

Horrific practice

Chinemu, well done on this piece. You've told the tragic, heart-breaking story with great clarity. It saddens me to hear how common these practices are. I hope that the healers who recommend child defilement also face some punishment within the courts.

I also agree with Ruth above that bringing the story full circle by closing with something about Angela would have been a strong storytelling device. All in all though, well done on bringing a huge concern to the world's eyes.

Best,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

rozjean's picture

How Sad

Dear Chimenu,
I felt so sad when I read your piece. It is unbelievable that healers collude to perpetuate such misguided "cures." I cannot even imagine the depth of devastation defilement causes to the victims, especially when families have been instrumental in the defilement. It is no wonder that Angela made the decision that she did. It is doubly sad that even in countries such as yours where the law is very clear that such horrific acts will be prosecuted vigorously, they continue. I like the the initiatives that are going on to combat defilement: counseling of parents; programs to provide affordable, legal counsel; billboards that send a message about protecting children from defilement; etc. I would be interested to know if any NGO's have programs to help those poor children who have already been defiled. If so, perhaps Angela could be directed to one of them. She is still young and, with help, she might be able to live a different life.
Warm wishes,
Roz

Wendyiscalm's picture

YOUR story

Bwanji,

Your story is heartfelt and eye-opening. I have an NGO "I AM ONE IN A MILLION " which helps street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia. While I know much now about the area traditions, customs and horrors because I am there often, I want to be able to meet with someone in LIvingstone to talk, to get more involved in the things you tell of.

Do you have a contact person and contact information for that area. I return August 31.

Keep up the good work. You really bring to the front much of what we don't understand.

Zikimo,

Ubuntu,

Wendy Stebbins.

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Your article is compelling. I am often in Livingstone.

Is this defilement going on in Livingstone, Zambia?

Ubuntu,

Wendy Stebbins

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Wendyiscalm's picture

SIGNS

Your article haunts me. In A good way. It makes me question.

What are some of the signs that I, as a white American woman, could possibly notice to make me take notice that perhaps a certain girl has been defiled?

Thank you

Ubuntu,

Wendy Stebbins

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

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