Excruciating screams— in what I assume would be early into the night— kept some villagers awake in a part of Nsanje. Their occurrence several times prompted some to investigate, of course through the village hierarchy. It did not require an extensive investigation to uncover the source of the agony. A 13-year-old had been sold off to a Form Three dropout for a bale of sugar and two pieces of cloths (zitenje). To add icing to the cake, the inquisition uncovered that one episode of her violation was refereed by her grandmother who— seemingly exasperated by the thought of raising the orphan any longer— endeavoured to halt the depletion of her resources by telling the youngster to quietly endure the experiments of her yet-to-be marriage at the hands of this young man. She schemed that the only way to rid herself of the burden was to marry the grandchild off at a final price of K40 000. And as she awaited the groom to raise it, she went about her daily chores without an ounce of consciousness as the suitor gained carnal knowledge. Mind you, all this is happening within granny’s compound who apparently feels indebted to this man for his generosity in according her a cup of tea. He has the permission to sleep with the girl for the time being until he pays the remnant charge to take her as his own.
I thought of sharing this little tale from Nsanje following my visit last week. It sent shivers down my spine because as most of us look forward to retiring after a long and hard day’s work, a little girl in Nsanje braces for the torture lying yonder while her supposed protectors orchestrate her fall into the dungeon. I imagine her fumbling through her belongings just before bedtime in an attempt to buy time and pretend sleep had eluded her this night. She probably stares at the granny seated at the verandah just before she too retires to her own hut, her silent pleas screaming out for immunity. But possibly, granny looks the other way and speaks without eye contact, directing her to hurry to bed “to preserve the only stump of a candle remaining to serve them for the rest of the week”. Of course it is not the candle she refers to. It is the permitted defiler who has the blessing to break the law from the people meant to preserve culture, look out for youngsters, protect the law and preserve the correct ways of marriage.
There are respondents in various forms to such happening as elaborated above. There are many in other parts too exposed to this kind of barbarism, with no one to turn to. Journalists have written stories about early marriages, defilements and all the blah blahs. But do we ever wear these girls’ shoes for one moment to feel what they feel or are they just glamorous statistics that make a good read? Do we all know what it means to be ‘sold’ out by family? Treachery may be understandable from a stranger, not parents or relatives at whatever generational setting. Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done. And as each of us goes to bed tonight, think about all the little girls forced into every manner of indecency. Will you snooze peacefully still? I know there are those who are indifferent to the above narration and are applauding granny’s ‘wise’ actions. I pray that they awake eaten on one side by their conscience. If the conscience is long dead, nyerere zikulumeni right in the covers!