In the Nation on Sunday of 5th January 2014, there was one of the many horrendous sexual abuse stories we hear about regularly. It was about 15-year-old Maria Charles, whose biological mother manipulated her into substituting the mother as her stepfather’s wife every time the mother was away. This, to the mother, was a strategy to tame her husband and prevent him from seeking sex outside the home.
This is not only objectionable; it is indefensible. Even more horrifying is that the use of daughters in this manner is actually a normal cultural practice in parts of Thyolo. According to one senior traditional leader, at its peak the practice was common among women desperate to keep their husbands sexually catered to at home while they were away.
Here, we have in one act crimes of defilement, incest, exploitation and adultery arranged by a mother who should care for and nurture, and perpetrated by a man who should be father, provider and protector. This is an affront to all men and women who think with their brains and hearts.
Meanwhile, the story indicates that the offices which must come between the child and her molesters go ahead to release the perpetrator of a heinous crime based on some fickle emotional plea of the mastermind, and yet common logic should dictate that both the man and woman must be in custody right now, or facing the law.
Maria’s case is the epitome of moral decadence in our land. A once child-friendly society is waging war against its new generation. There is every indication that our society is on a roller-coaster of moral free-fall which will leave many maimed, destroyed and deprived. Maria could become just another statistic; another life once hopeful destroyed without redress.
What is the basic problem? In my view, it all starts with forms of marriage such as Maria’s mother entered into, second generation marriages of parties who join in unions with heavy baggage of which children are a major part. I know a marriage of two middle-aged people who have between them 10 children of college age or older, all still under one roof.
This in itself may not be a problem; the problem is the parties not paying attention to what the baggage they each bring into the marriage could mean with regard to relationships, family organisation, resource management and social space. Most second generation relationships do not regard feelings of children nor do the partners face objectively more sinister risks of such relationships, including sexual abuse by stepfathers, aided or not, and sexual relationships among the children themselves.
Parents and counsellors of such marriages have the duty to hear the children. Being the most vulnerable children need education regarding risks of sexual abuse and skills to deal with manipulative mothers, exploitative fathers and other would-be sexual predators. Community and faith leaders should be interested in what pain second generation families are causing children and must bear their experience and authority to protect these defenceless members of our society. Further, children should be linked to sources of support and empowered to appeal to them in time of personal risk or to report sexual abuse taking place elsewhere.
Sadly, our society that prizes conspiracies, one of them keeping silence about evil acts for fear of creating enemies or strangely to keep a marriage. How do we afford silence while lives are being destroyed?
If it be true that Maria’s husband was released on her pleadings, it is a serious betrayal of public trust. In the same manner, for putting a daughter through pain and indignity, Maria’s mother must pay for aiding commission of multiple crimes. This is a mother who planned systematic abuse of her own daughter by her own husband; deprived her of the right to childhood; drove Maria into sex without (and below the age of) consent.
What do the law and children rights say should happen to people such as Maria’s mother, if she is indeed a mother? If what this woman did is not criminal, then what is? If an abuser of her type can obtain the release of a criminal husband, then where do development organisations get the motivation to invest in child protection?
To me, this woman and the devil incarnate who abused Maria cannot go scot-free, except in a society which is indeed in a moral free-fall; a nation of failed institutions or just too corruptly negligent to care about children in distress.
This could be the mark of our society, but the choice is ours to change.
—The author likes to comment on social issues.