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Lindi: Heartrending case of defilement, neglect and barbaric cover-up

CHILD sexual abuse has never been accorded the attention it deserves.

Despite governments and other stakeholders the world is over striving to promote child rights and in the long run rid the society of such ills, the strong social network and inextricably interwoven family ties and relations have led to the crime being swept under the carpet, with children suffering abuse in silence.

They are simply rendered voiceless and hapless as family and society values and traditions trap and gag them.

In my line of duty, I came face to face with such a scenario.

It was a sorry state of affairs when I visited Mchinga II Village of Mchinga Ward in Lindi Rural in December, last year.

My trip there was necessitated by a telephone call from a member of the Prevention and Reduction of Gender- Based Violence (PRGBV) Committee which is coordinated by the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) project in the ward, through the support of the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) for five years, in the country.

The PRGBV committee member had called to inform me of an incident that involved a grandfather who had sexually abused his grandchild, but as always, the case had every sign of disappearing into thin air.

When I arrived in Lindi, I visited the village and was accompanied by two members of the committee to the house where the incident occurred.

Due to heavy a down pour at that time, the only way to get there was walking because the path was covered with pools of stagnant water and was muddy.

It was around 10am when we disembarked from motorcycles along the major highway and had to endure a three-hour walk in muddy and water filled paths, that seemed like eternity.

The journey was not easy and was tiresome, the only thing that was keeping my hopes high was the zeal to meet the family where what looked like drama to me had occurred.

As we were climbing a hill and my hosts having assured us that we were about to arrive, we came across a young girl of about the age of four years, seated on a cut tree alone and there was no sign of any one around.

A man who accompanied us was familiar with the girl and tried to approach her where she was sitting but the girl repulsed his advances.

He asked her what she was doing there; the girl said she had been waiting for her sister who was gathering vegetables. He asked her where the grandmother was she pointed up before agreeing to take us there.

It took us some time to get up there and finally we found the grandmother, Esha Mchepelo, who lives with her husband and two grandchildren.

The family lives at a place called Likovya in the same village. And, when we had settles after the long journey, Esha shared with us how her fouryear old grandchild Khadija (not her real name) was raped by her husband, who is a stepgrandfather to the girl.

On that fateful day Esha woke up very early in the morning to go to town and buy food, because there was none left in the house. As she left, the husband and granddaughter were still sleeping.

By around 4pm, Esha had already returned home. When she approached the house, her granddaughter ran and told her that she had been penetrated by her grandfather while she was not around. She quoted the granddaughter who said, “Bibi, bibi babu amenikocha kocha.”

She asked her where the grandfather penetrated and the girl showed her private parts. Because they were still outside of the house, she took the grandchild inside and examined the child to verify what she was saying.

“Looking at the child, I discovered that the girls’ private parts were red and torn…from there I went up straight to my husband and confronted him on the matter, but he denied doing anything.

“I kept insisting because it was him alone I left with the child and considering that we had no neighbours who lived closer by that we could suspect,” said Esha. She kept pushing and shoving the husband in order for him to give her straight answers regarding the matter.

And, after a long struggle, he then surprised her claiming that the child is a woman, therefore nothing was wrong even if she had been penetrated.

Having heard such a response, Esha took the child and left for the village centre. Because of the long distance, they arrived there at around 8pm and decided to sleep until the following morning to report the matter to the authorities.

In the morning she went and reported the matter to the hamlet leader, who directed her to the Village Executive Officer (VEO) for further action. Mchinga II VEO, Ashura Namyundu verified that the incident was reported to her by hamlet leader. She on the other hand took the responsibility to send her to the police in Mchinga I to file a case.

At Mchinga, the police gave her directives to go to a health centre with the child. "Three days had passed since the incident had occurred, the attendants at the health centre said they were not going to do anything with the child but what I had to do is go to the District Police Station in Lindi Municipality," she noted.

She returned to the police station in Mchinga I and notified them what had transpired and they decided for her to obtain transportation to Lindi.

The police in Lindi issued her with documentation to go to the Regional Hospital identified as Sokoine for examination and again return to the station.

According to her, the Hospital confirmed that the child was raped. When she returned to the police on the day after, they directed her to go in one of the rooms at the station.

By then an order for the husband’s arrest had already been issued and he was under police custody in Lindi.

Esha went in the room and found a policewoman who explained to her that the husband was being set free because they determined that he had nothing to do with the defilement.

“They told me that they were only waiting for me to arrive, if I had arrived late the police would have given my husband the bus fare to return home.

The police claimed that my husband has forgiven me and we should go home and patch things,” revealed Esha.

“They gave us a chance to talk and reconcile things…my husband and I talked and he posed the blame on me for wanting him to be detained, claiming that I had imposed false allegations against him.

“I kept insisting to him that he committed the incident, but since I was told there was no case and I should reconcile with my husband, there was nothing to do than to agree,” she noted.

Esha returned home with her husband and moved on with life, citing that the incident has not occurred again. An Official at Lindi Disgirl trict Council Police Station who attended the matter claimed that the incident was a trap set by Esha to leave the husband for another man.

The official also alleged that they urged the couple to reconcile and continue with their life setting Esha’s husband free.

According to Lindi District Police Gender and Children's desk Investigator, Sergeant Siwabu Mikidadi, a total of 39 rape cases were reported in 2016 as opposed to 21 cases in 2017.

Sergeant Mikidadi also noted that there were two attempted rape cases in 2016 and one reported in 2017. While there was only one case of sodomy reported in 2016 and three in 2017.

Lindi District Resident Magistrate, Mr Allu Nzowa pointed out that the court received 29 cases related to rape and sodomy for the past year.

He said the court had already delivered judgments for four cases and the criminals were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

“Eight of the cases were in the final stage, four were suspended for various reasons and the rest are still on going,” he pointed out.

Magistrate Nzowa said the reason the problem was huge in the area is due to bad socio- cultural norms and life’s hardships.

Most of the cases involve statutory rape, meaning they have all the blessings from the parties. Lindi Regional Medical Officer (RMO), Dr Genchwele Makenge revealed that tests used to determine whether a person has been raped or not can fail to establish the rape if the swabs are taken two days after, even in the presence of other effects such as being torn or having bruises. And as a result, the person’s claim to have been raped may not be believed.

A French study has confirmed that a back-up test can often detect the male Y chro-mosome even if no sperms are found.

Reports claim that if the assailant has a low sperm count or does not ejaculate, or if the woman is menstruating or using spermicide.

It can also fail if the rape involved oral or anal sex, because salivary and bacterial enzymes can rapidly destroy sperm.

An article about a traumatized doctor’s gory tale of children being raped and infected with STDs reports that many kids who are sexually abused endure months and years of abuse before they are eventually rescued.

The article noted a doctor in Jamaica who observed that most young patients were taken to hospital for contracting sexually transmitted infection.

Many of these children are usually not taken to hospital until they start to experience symptoms associated with the vagina, penis or anus.

Violence against children is a major threat to national development and the work to achieve the vision laid out. Quality primary and secondary education cannot be achieved unless children are safe in school.

The spread of HIV/AIDS will not be halted until sexual violence comes to a stop as it helps to fuel the pandemic.

The incidence and costs of mental and physical health problems cannot be addressed if all forms of violence against children are not eradicated (UNICEF report on Violence Against Children in Tanzania - Findings from a National Survey 2009).

The National Costed Plan of Action for Most Vulnerable Children 2007 – 2010 indicates that significant steps have been taken to improve the legal framework for the protection of the rights of children in Tanzania; many children are still vulnerable to violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse.

Commonly, the very institutions and individuals that are supposed to protect children – teachers, policies and relatives – are cited as the perpetrators of the violence or abuse.

On the other hand, the law of the Child Act, approved by the Tanzanian Parliament in November 2009 and the Children’s Act, passed by Zanzibar’s Parliament in March 2011, enshrine fundamental rights of children and lay the foundation for a child protection system that will oblige a range of bodies to prevent and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation of children. Tanzania is committed to ensuring that the rights of children are respected.

Nevertheless, the challenge remains to use and translate laws and policies effectively to deliver equitable and lasting results for children.

Dr Makenge is in the view that other medical examinations test besides the swabs should be adopted by the country’s hospitals and health centres to prove whether a child, girl or woman has been raped even if no sperms are found.

The Conference Book Stop Violence against Children of 2011 highlights that the effects of abuse are everlasting. It always will be a part of the child’s life when it's within the family, there are always reminders.

The book inquires that government should come up with a comprehensive prevention of child sex abuse strategy looking at ways to tackle all types of abuse including that, which occur in the family.

THE National Electoral Commission (NEC) ...

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Author: MAUREEN ODUNGA

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