I T is the Civics subject in school that helped Neema Jacob and her siblings to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in 2018. She was in standard six by then at one of the Mwanzabased primary schools and aged 12 years. Her parents, especially her father, kept insisting that Neema and her two young sisters should go for FGM, which forced Neema to threaten her father, telling him if he insisted she would report the matter to the police.
She gained the confidence to confront her father when she recalled how her Civics teacher kept on telling them that FGM and early marriage were enemies of their dreams. The teacher used to tell the girls that they should report to the local leaders in their community and the police in case they faced such a situation, Neema told Woman Magazine last week.
“When I threatened to take him to the police, he kept quiet for some days, but a few weeks later he would come up with the topic, especially when he got drunk, telling us that if our 12-year old neighbour’s daughter did it, we should also do it,” she says.
Later on, her father told the girls to stop going to school if they refused to undergo FGM. They had to stay home, with only Neema's young brothers going to school. Facing an uphill task in convincing their daughters, the parents contacted the girls’ uncle (their mother's young brother) in Mkulimilo village in Tanga region, telling him that the girls have refused to undergo FGM practice.
They therefore requested the uncle to take the girls with him to his village, because they knew that the girls will have no idea where to report. The uncle accepted the request and the girls shifted to Tanga in 2019. After sometime, he told them to prepare themselves for FGM, whose preparations were at an initial stage.
Once again Neema rejected the proposal and convinced her siblings to escape, but the young girls became afraid of making any attempt. Two days later, Neema pretended to go to the farm and took that opportunity to disappear from the homestead. It took her almost two days to reach the main Tanga-Dar es Salaam road, where she was determined to find her way back to Mwanza.
“The first day I slept in a bush after failing to cross one of the rivers which was flooded because it was raining heavily. The wild animals that passed near me were not harmful, but I shifted to another bush after I heard hyenas nearby,” she narrates.
She knew it was hyenas because she was accustomed to see and hear them during her stay in Mkulimilo village. Some herders helped her to cross the river the next day, and she continued walking until evening when she came across the main road, and she went to a nearby house and begged for accommodation.
Her host was an elder woman who took her to the ten-cell leader after hearing her sad story. Neema stayed at the tencell leader for some time, with her host reporting the matter to other leaders to see how she could be accompanied back to Mwanza. Eventually, a Ward Executive Officer volunteered to help and took her to another uncle in Mwanza, because Neema completely refused to go to her parents.
“My uncle’s wife wasn’t ready to accommodate me, so I was forced to escape, and went around people’s homes looking for a house maid’s work. One woman refused to hire me because I did not provide any address,” she says.
However, the woman gave her accommodation because it was already late, and the next morning she took her to a nearby Police station. After listening to her story, the police took her to Mwanzabased ‘Wote Sawa Domestic Workers’, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) where she is currently staying.
Soon after she entered the NGO premises, Neema informed the staff about her siblings she left in Tanga who were being prepared to undergo FGM. Immediately the NGO communicated with relevant authorities in Tanga who went and rescued the children, where they found them safe and sound.
“I guess my uncle postponed the exercise for fear of legal actions after I ran away, thinking that I went to the police,” says Neema.
“Neema is currently taking tailoring course while we are trying to facilitate reuniting her with her biological parents, though Neema isn’t ready,” says ‘Wote Sawa' Empowering Officer, Ms Demitila Faustine. She says that the NGO usually communicates with their clients’ relatives, in a bid to bring back the lost relationships between children and parents/guardians.
“We usually tell the children that there is no better place to stay than the original home. We reunite them with their parents, though it is usually not an easy task. It takes time because children seem to have completely lost trust, including Neema,” she says.
Ms Faustine says it is because mental pictures of what the children have faced stick in their minds, despite regular counseling sessions the NGO offers. Apart from Neema, Woman Magazine also met another child at the NGO, Neema Joseph (15), who like her namesake also refused to go back home in Katavi District of Simiyu region.
This is after her biological mother and step father forced her to go for early marriage. Neema was raised by her maternal grandparents in Katavi and she has never seen neither her biological father nor any paternal sibling. After she accomplished her primary school education last year, her mother, who lives with another man in Biharamulo District of Kagera region, invited Neema to visit her.
A week after she went Biharamulo, the step father told her that they had already found a husband for her. Neema refused the proposal and escaped the next day to Mwanza.
“I asked good Samaritans to help me reach Mwanza where I planned to seek for help so that I can be taken to my grandparents. But while in Mwanza I met a woman who asked me if I can work for her as a maid, and I accepted the proposal,” she says.
Unfortunately, she faced sexual violence by one of her boss’ young brothers a few days after starting work. She reported the matter to the local government leaders who took her to the police and then to ‘Wote Sawa’. The man was arrested and the case is at the court, with Wote Sawa providing legal assistance to Neema