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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Abused children speak out

The country s sexually abused children are speaking out to draw attention to a problem that has worsened with the breakdown of the traditional family.
James Hall

In the old days, the extended family looked after its members. If a child or a wife was abused, a family council took place, and the elders might send the wife back to her people, or remove the child to live with another relative, said Felix Mkathwa, a chief s runner in the Manzini district.

But while polygamy is still legal, the multi-generational homesteads where families lived as mini-clans have vanished. The pressures of urbanisation and poverty, two-thirds of Swazis live in chronic poverty, according to the United Nations Development Programme, have taken their toll. Many modern Swazis feel dislocated from the old ways, adrift from the traditional family support mechanism. This vacuum has offered opportunities for child abuse, social welfare groups report.

The police are sensitised to abuse. Wife abuse is no longer dismissed as a private family matter. Special courts have been set up that are child friendly, to handle cases of abuse and incest, Superintendent Leckina Magagula, who specialises in child welfare cases for the Royal Swaziland Police Force, told IPS.

In an effort to make the general public also aware of the trauma of child abuse, social welfare organisations like the UN child fund UNICEF and the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse have encouraged children to tell their stories. Cloaked in confidentiality, these young storytellers are making believers of conservative Swazis who have dismissed the notion of child abuse as a foreign something that can never happen here, where we honour our children, according to one chief s testimony at a national assembly.

Thembi, 16, testified in one of the stories published in the country: I don t know how to express my feelings. I don t know how to say this thing that happened to me. I think I will be able to see clearly when I can look at him as my father again not as this person who abused me. That is what I feel when I think of him. I need some time. Then I think I can think about seeing him again. He ll still be alive. I don t know if he ll be sorry. I don t know what he thinks.

He went to jail for some time. I didn t go to court because I was in hospital. The baby was being born.

I had an operation. The baby would not come out. The nurses said, Push! The doctor came after some hours, and said, Push! But I could not push. I was too weak. They took me to the operating theatre. They cut me open to have the baby come out. I needed some days to recover.

The night my father raped me, he pulled me to his room. He brought me to the bed. I was resisting. He hit me. He threw me down on the bed. He was so angry I thought he would kill me. He started stripping off my clothes. I was crying. He slapped me hard on the face.

I couldn t say anything because he was closing my mouth with his hand. I tried to scream. He was on top of me. That was when my mind was open, and I knew what was happening. When he was doing what he was doing I thought what was going to happen to me?

When he was through I thought of killing myself.

Thembi s father is now in prison. So is the father of Phetsile, the next storyteller who is also 16 and an incest victim. The fact that men are now tried and punished for child abuse crimes is encouraging, but does not lessen the suffering of their victims.

Father started beating me when I started school. I was in school up to Form Four, Phetsile recalled.

When he was beating me, he was drunk. But he knew it was me. He said my name. He was angry. He was blaming me for things. He said I was coming back late from school. He wasn t at home, but some other people told him. Sometimes I was doing something after school, extra study, so I was late to come home. It was not very late. I did choir practice. We sang traditional Swazi songs. I liked singing in the choir. I m a good singer.

I told my father this. He didn t tell me to quit choir, he just beat me. He was looking for a reason to beat me because he was angry. I ran away when he beat me. He called me names. Silema (idiot). He d say, Foesak! like I was a dog. He didn t like me. I know he was my father, but he hated me.

When he was coming from etjwaleni (a homestead where beer was sold), it was late at night. He was calling me to come to his room to cook for him. He d have sex with me when I was cooking for him.

The first time he did this, I was asleep. He knocked at grandfather s door. I got up, and cooked for him. He ate the food. He didn t say anything. He went out, and came in with a bush knife. He was angry. I don t know why. He asked me about my mom. Where is she?

I didn t know what to say. He pointed the bush knife at me. I said I didn t know where my mother was. I started crying.

He said he wanted to sleep with me. I couldn t run away because I thought he would catch me and maybe kill me with the knife. He took my clothes off. I didn t fight him. I was frightened! He hurt me. He was rough. He hurt inside me. It was dark. I couldn t see my father s face. I didn t say anything to him. I was afraid I was going to die. I knew what father was doing was wrong. He gave me my clothes back. I dressed on the way back to grandfather s hut in the dark. Grandfather was asleep. I didn t wake him up. I couldn t sleep. I was crying.

The daughter as a substitute wife is a recurring theme in abuse cases, child welfare organisations say. Tina, a girl of 15, is now safely in a halfway house in the central city Manzini, awaiting a foster family. But six months ago, she was living a nightmare.

I always did the housework. I also did all the cooking. When mother was there we were taking turns. Then it was only me. Tina said.

My father used to beat my mother. When they were arguing they chased the children away. After my mother left, he started to beat me.

I went to her home, and spoke with her. My mother told me my father wanted to have sex with me. She told me this, and I believed her.

I was sleeping in my own bed at the house. He came to my bed. It was night. He didn t speak to me. He got into bed with me. He was not wearing clothes. I asked him what he was doing. He didn t say anything. He beat me. He used an imvubo. This is a black stick that the police carry. He beat me because I was resisting him. I was on my stomach so he couldn t get to me. He beat me on the back so I would turn over. He had not been drinking.

I knew what he wanted because my mother warned me. But I asked, Why are you beating me?

I was scared. I was hurting. I screamed. Nobody heard me. I knew it was wrong what he was doing. He never said he wanted to have sex with me before. He raped me. Then he went back to his bed. I didn t do anything. I was afraid to run away. I was afraid that he would kill me. It was hard to breathe. I fell asleep, though I was hurting on my back.

The next morning, we did not talk. I didn t have breakfast. I didn t feel like eating anything. My father made his breakfast himself. I put on my school uniform, and I went to school. I came home. I did this every day. We did not talk about that night.

Tina was saved by a schoolteacher who had been trained to detect signs of abuse, and who noticed the girls declining performance in her tests and assignments, her quietness and listlessness, and her air of unhappiness. Facial bruises suggested beatings, and after some questioning, the girl revealed the horrors of her home life to social welfare workers.

The intervention of such sympathetic authorities mirrors the wider concern of a Swazi public newly aware of abuse situations occurring in the country, and intently searching for answers.

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