As Irene, 11, of Pyoka Padera Village, T/A Mtwalo in Mzimba in northern Malawi, was busy cooking in the kitchen, it never crossed her mind that the man she thought was her guardian angel would prey on her.
Her 48-year-old step-father crept up behind the helpless girl, grabbed and raped her.
And to cap the insult, the ‘father’ fished out a measly K100 (about 0.02 cents) note to act both as compensation and bribe to silence her.
Anything could have been in the father’s blood, HIV, Herpes and Irene could easily have become pregnant. Such incidents can also lead to fistula, but most grave among the list of ills of rape and defilement is trauma.
It was the same K100 that gave the step-father away since the mother pinned the child, asking where she got the money and the timid child gave in.
Mzuzu Magistrate’s Court slapped the man with 10 years jail time with hard labour, but his case is just a drop in a big jar.
By mid July this year, there were 35 rape and defilement cases in Mzimba, Mzuzu City, Nkhata Bay and Chitipa.
Figures from the National Police headquarters show that defilement cases have gone down compared to last year, but at 83 cases recorded across the country in 2012, against 93 in 2011, defilement remains one of the crimes worrying police and the nation at large.
This means on average, seven cases of defilement are reported every month across Malawi.
It is such figures that worry Inspector General Lot Dzonzi who told the media in Lilongwe on December 13 that defilement is the major crime that police are grappling to tame.
Dr Jesse Kabwila, a gender expert, social activist and academic, on Saturday said she was shocked by the statistics.
Kabwila attributed the problem to skewed gender relations in the country where, she said, women are regarded as inferior.
“I think the real problem is the notion of patriarchy which comes in different forms but in simple terms it is the belief that women are inferior to men. It’s about power relations between men and women. Defilement is actually just a tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Kabwila said Malawian culture equips men with an attitude that says men are bigger and better than women and that women are sex objects. She also said the capitalistic set-up of society sees man as the boss and breadwinner.
“Religion also teaches oppression of women. And nothing will happen until we engage men to ask them to reshape their masculinity. We should re-examine what we say about women in our music, church and homes.
“We should bring in issues of health – how defilement psychologically affects women. We should ask whether we are empowering women enough,” she said.
Many of the defilers are usually people the victims trust or cannot avoid. Step-fathers and uncles have been recorded as the major perpetrators of the crime.
Father George Buleya of the Catholic Church on Saturday said the Church will continue praying and teaching against defilement, but denied that the Church might be to blame.
“These defilements are a sign of a society that is getting sick because of outside influence… sin can never be permanently dealt with. It has been there since the biblical times. The Church will, however, continue to pray against such things,” said Buleya.
He also bemoaned the increased media exposure of defilement cases, saying some people might be getting ideas from media reports.
The figures from police are likely to be an underestimation considering the theory that most rape cases are not reported. And add in the fact that 67 cases of defilement and rape were reported in Lilongwe’s Mtandire Township alone, just the month of June.
Defilers are hard to report because they are also breadwinners in the family; thus, the family has to choose between sending them to jail and going deeper into poverty.
National Police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said the figures speak of hard work on the part of the police.
“The defilement cases are just lack of humanity on the part of the defilers. They should think of how it could feel if it were their daughters. And as much as we cannot blame parents for not tracking the children, they should try to make sure they are aware of their daughters’ whereabouts.
“When defilement occurs, let parents not wash up their daughters, lest they wash away evidence but rather rush to the police to get a report and then go to the hospital,” said Manjolo.
Irene is now 13 and only she alone can tell if she feels better that her assailant is locked up and whether that can do anything to ease the pain she feels when she slides into a trance.