A battle between two men in Malawi’s commercial city of Blantyre over who fathered a seven-year-old girl took a twist last Sunday when police were forced to climb the walls of a warehouse in Limbe to rescue her after one of the men had allegedly abducted her.
Efforts by police to enter and search the house of the man, a Pakistani, who had taken the girl from Chileka, proved futile because he allegedly prevented the law enforcers from accessing the premises.
The girl’s mother, Angela Zembere, now married to the Pakistani, Afutab Oppelle, dated Malawian Labren Sondhi from 2005, but they broke up in 2008.
The Sunday ordeal for the girl, Kayla, went on for three gruesome hours, with the minor locked away within two steel doors to prevent her from leaving or anyone entering the warehouse that was filled with boxes.
It took the intervention of Eye of the Child to beef up the rescue team with six more officers. Oppelle eventually relented and opened the door.
Amid card board boxes lay a traumatised Kayla, sleeping as she had been locked up for five hours.
Sondhi rushed her to hospital for examination as she looked frail, confused and was trembling.
“She had been separated from me and my wife for a week following nasty encounters with her biological mother and her Pakistani husband. They have defied court orders time and again and now the Pakistani is claiming paternity,” said the distraught father, who wept as he narrated his daughter’s ordeal.
Sondhi said the child has been a bone of contention between him and her mother whom he broke up with five years ago.
The soft-spoken engineer, who works for Escom in Blantyre, said he took custody of the girl when she was two years old and took her to his matrimonial home following the end of his affair with her mother.
The 58-year-old said the girl’s mother was allowed weekend visitations, but claimed he was concerned by Oppelle’s smoking habits, which he feared could affect the child.
The High Court granted him an injunction in 2010 restraining the mother from picking the child except during holidays.
But Sondhi said he contested the conditions of the order and was given full custody of the girl.
“We got a fresh injunction in February this year and the judge allowed her Saturday visitations from 9am to 4pm. Before she was served, she came to my house on 23rd February where she attacked my wife and accused us of hiding the girl,” he said.
He and the girl, who had been away, arrived at the chaotic scene at the house with a court clerk to serve the woman with the fresh injunction.
Eventually, he allowed Zembere to take the girl on condition that she brings her back the same day. He said this was the last time he saw the girl until last Sunday when she was rescued by police.
According to Sondhi, when police tried to look for the girl they yielded nothing because both she and her mother could not be traced for a week.
Zembere promised to grant Nation on Sunday an interview on Friday, but when we contacted her, she did not pick up her phone. We also failed to contact her Pakistani husband Oppelle.