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.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2012 Assignments: Feature Stories.