She was unable to go to school, too weak to prepare food for herself as well as looking after her very personal hygiene. Despite her critical condition, she was prevented from accessing medical attention because her father simply locked her up. For no apparent reasons, it appeared she was left to die alone in the dim house. This is the story of 13-year-old Chisomo (not real name) from Nankumba in the area of Traditional Authority Somba, Blantyre. on the verge of death due to parental neglect.
Among other responsibilities, Section 3 (b) of the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act (2010), stipulates that parents or guardians should “provide proper guidance, care, assistance and maintenance for the child to ensure his or her survival and development, including in particular adequate diet, clothing, shelter and medical attention.”However, Chisomo experienced violence at the hands of her father. Despite her suffering of anemia, he did not bother to take her to the hospital. Like a prisoner, she spent about two weeks indoors as her father locked her up in the house every morning before leaving for Blantyre market for business.
Neighbours could hear the helpless adolescent girl screaming in pain but refrained from taking action due to fear of the unknown. In line with cultural norms, they felt had no control over another person’s child regardless of the situation. However, upon discussion of the man choosing to lock up his daughter in the house while she was critically ill, community members suspected business rituals.
“We all suspect that this man was up to something when he was reluctant to take his daughter to the hospital. He knew something about her daughter’s sickness, who knows?” suggested a member of the community.
The other section of the community blamed the community leadership for failing to come to the rescue of vulnerable groups such as children and women.
“The problem we have in our area is lack of knowledge on the rights of children and women. For, example, people don’t know that children have a right to good health, food and protection that is supposed to be defended by the parents or guardians. Hence cases of girls marrying at a tender age or denied opportunity to go to school. Because of poor knowledge on the rights of children and women, community leadership is also quiet on such sensitive issues,” pointed out Fanizo Pinto, another community member.
He further attributed increasing cases of violence against children (both girls and boys) and women to lack of active participation of communities on issues of development.
“The reason why some communities register increased cases of violence against children and women is because communities (themselves) do not want to take the leading role in fighting the enemy. Instead of being proactive, they wait for NGOs or government to do everything for them and expect to develop. Never! Development is not achieved that way because NGOs and government agencies are there to supplement the already existing efforts of communities,” said Pinto.
Intervention of Community Women
After Chisomo had languished for about two weeks, a group of women known as Mwangata Women’s Network, dealing with issues of Gender Based Violence (GBV) at community level, intervened.
In collaboration with teachers from Nankumba primary school, where Chisomo was supposed to attend, and Milare Police, the women went to the house of the survivor where they forced the door open in order to rescue her.
“At the time of the mission, the women found the neglected girl very weak hence they rushed her to Queens Elizabeth Central Hospital where she was admitted. Information gathered that time indicated that the man was allegedly saying that he was locking up his daughter because her death was around the corner due to her sickness, “ said Inspector Nelson Gulani of Milare Police.
Oh her part, Mwangata Women’s Network chairlady Mary Mtoko said when they recognised that what Chisomo was experiencing at the hands of her father was violence; they decided to interfere in order to rescue her.
“As community police against violence, on that day, we did not bother to find out the reasons why this heartless father was locking up his daughter in the house because our interest was to save her from violence which had put her life at risk. With financial assistance from her school, we took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with anemia and admitted,” said Mtoko.
Mwangata Women's Network
Chisomo was discharged from Queens two weeks later and gave a full account of her plight and family.
“After she was treated, the once weak girl, whose life was about to be lost, was able to talk again. She gave us the details of her parents. She said she was living with her father following a separation with her mother who left for her home village in Dowa. But luckily, the women managed to reunite her with her mother who had since taken her to Dowa,” said Gulani.
The police officer added that efforts were underway to bring the father to book who was still at large following the negligence.
Mwangata Women’s Network is one of the many groups established by Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) under its Oxfam-funded project called Prevention of violence against girls and women in the area of T/A Somba in Blantyre.
According to project manager Howard Mlozi, the core objective of establishing the networks is to empower community women and girls to amplify their voices in order to become advocates of their own rights and change as far as the fight against GBV is concerned.
“Basically, the project builds the capacity of local leaders and other relevant duty bearers, girls and women for them to identify GBV related challenges and undertake action including advocacy initiatives. This gives them power to take matters into their own hands in changing societal attitudes towards girls and women and subsequently eradicating instances of violence against women at grassroots levels,” said Mlozi.
The Oxfam-funded project seeks to contribute to the global fight against violence among women and girls by preventing it from happening in the first place by raising awareness about its consequences in society. Its overall goal is to reduce the incidences of violence among 400 rural girls and women in both domestic and public spaces in Blantyre and Mulanje districts by March 2015. It also aims at stimulating the development of new mechanisms and strengthens response and reporting measures at the grassroots levels in order to ensure protection and access to justice by survivors of violence.Mlozi said the project has started bearing fruits as women are now able to handle cases of violence. Meanwhile, GENET has established 14 groups of girls and women and two stakeholders committees (at T/A levels) that are currently working against violence in Blantyre and Mulanje.