My aunt’s 12 year-old daughter was recently cornered into a secluded little room by the caretaker for their block of flats where they stay in Avondale. He attempted to rape her. Thankfully she managed to escape unscathed, but she is still reeling from the effects of the trauma associated with that experience. My family has gone through a frustrating episode over this and probably writing about it is my way of dealing with it. Attempted rape in my books and the books of our law is a criminal offence that is (or should be) punishable by long imprisonment. The mother reported the case to police who at the time swiftly acted and condemned the caretaker to the cells. Less than 48 hours later, the man was back in the yard, going about his business and acting like all was normal. This was quite baffling and it soon became apparent that a few palms had probably been greased. Realizing the danger of having this man lurking about his victim and the other children; the residence committee unanimously decided to relieve him of his duties as caretaker. At the moment, the man is not only carrying on as if nothing has changed, he has also harassed the chairperson of the residence committee and slashed all her maize crop after she served him with a letter of dismissal. He has also threatened my aunt with unspecified action. In short, the man is a dangerously loose canon and I shudder to think of what he is capable of doing.
My aunt has tried going back to the police who have informed her that the assailant paid admission of guilt fine and could not be detained outside certain ‘specific’ charges. I know it must be devastatingly traumatic for her because the man who fondled and groped her child is being watched wreaking havoc and promising more, and nobody seems interested in doing anything about it, especially the police.
In a desperate move, my aunt has approached numerous local child protection organizations – a lot of whom have not been able to do anything much for her either because they claim to be overwhelmed and have referred her to the next organization or are for some reason hesitant or simply caught up in their own bureaucratic processes. While I appreciate that obtaining justice for an abused child is not an automatic process in Zimbabwe, it is still quite disheartening that none of these organizations have taken real interest in dealing with this particular case. They have literally been tossed from one organization to the other; the kid has probably suffered more trauma from having her case rejected from all sides, meanwhile she lives in real fear of the moron that tried to rape her. When I heard about this, I remember thinking vaguely –so where are they supposed to go?
A few weeks ago, a dejected father whose daughter was raped by a school’s groundsman attended one of our monthly thematic discussions, which focused on abuse in schools. His story was also very sad because the groundsman was being permitted to continue working as normal, lurking around all the small children as the case was still being deliberated on. The father could not obtain justice for his child too, thanks to a lot of red tape and the perennial bureaucratic processes one has to go through to get closure on such cases. His daughter was also denied a place at a nearby school in Marimba because the headmistress said she did not want any ‘problems’. I have heard of several more cases like these – where the perpetrator goes scot free while long processes are being undertaken
It is sad to note that a lot of the organizations representing children’s rights in Zimbabwe are toothless bulldogs who really aren’t doing much on the ground except justifying their existence sufficiently enough to extract rent from the next donor. I know that sounds really accusatory, but people like my aunt and the man whose child was molested by a groundsman and the children themselves are meant to be amongst the intended beneficiaries justifying the existence of such organizations and their programming. So if organizations that purportedly work to represent children’s rights are constantly too busy and keep referring cases to each other to no avail on the part of the aggrieved, then I guess they are not doing enough, and it’s sad to make this realization. I don’t know what’s even sadder – that they are too overwhelmed (which says a lot about the levels of child abuse in the country) to pay attention to some cases; or that for most of them, they feel that their hands are tied and they cannot actually do much outside what our callous police dictate.
It is my hope that one day, social services, child protection civic society and the court system may actually work and function to protection our most valuable asset as a country – the children. Probably there is a need for a coordinated response that achieves real impact among these organizations so that the constituents they serve are in the clear of where to go when in need. In other countries, when a child tells an adult that he or she has been sexually abused, it is taken seriously and a lot is done to protect that child from even seeing the person while the case is being investigated. I look to the day when it can be taken for granted that no matter how complex a case is or how busy they are; no abused child will ever be turned away from a child protection organization.