Betty Makoni to publish book on indigenous approaches to rape therapy for girls in Africa

How many cases of child sexual abuse has GCN tracked so far and what are the stories behind girls being raped in Zimbabwe from your experience?

Between 1998 and 2004 GCN tracked 20,000 cases of sexual abuse. Sadly, the cases tripled by the end of 2010 as the economic and political situation worsened. Note: these are cases that have been brought to us and there could be many others from other organizations. You will find that some cases go unreported and are never recorded for various reasons and the over 70 000 cases we dealt with maybe just a tip of the iceberg. For instance all girls under 16 years old and having to endure rape daily are did not have records with us but from the many villages we visited we came to a conclusion that in Zimbabwe girls are in bedrooms and not classrooms. Some fathers raped their daughters because they wanted to heal from HIV and AIDS, housemaids who come to seek for domestic work were raped, youth militia raped girls and impregnated them, male teachers raped girls and take for instance at Macheke Primary school where more than 50 girls were subjected to sexual abuse by one man , sugar daddies flirt girls who end up in brothels, thousands of girls were trafficked to neighboring countries and our data base shows the most affected age group is the 0 to 12 age group.

How many cases are followed through and receive assistance, and how many fall by the wayside?

GCNZ‘s Girls at Risk Support Unit (GARSU) receives between 8 and 10 cases per day at Chitungwiza Office which is lie the headquarters and through our  police ,hospital, social welfare, court, counseling  and social welfare tracking card a girls gets healing, shelter from further abuse, rehabilitation with a more caring family or safe school, food ,educational support and above all a girl always works to get justice.  The most imposrant assistance we give a girl is empowerment and the means for her to claim justice without being victimized and to have a support system she can turn to when her life is threatened by family members who are supposed to protect her. We give empowerment and leadership skills so that a girl stands up in court to give full and truthful evidence. Through our empowerment process we restore voice ,choice and space to the girl through girls empowerment clubs and ensure there is peer to peer support and that a girl is not in isolation.

Of the ten cases we receive per day in Chitungwiza only we track at least 4 with thoroughness due to limited staff and four  cases out of ten go through courts and success rate is 99%. Some of the cases fall by the wayside due to fear, shame and myths held in the families of the survivor. Most of the girls and their families fall victim to threats by perpetrators and their families, forcing the girls to withdraw from court or to go quiet. Those girls we accommodate at our girls empowerment villages (GEVs) go through psychosocial support, and are supported by educational and other basic needs. These girls having gone through GCNZ empowerment processes are able to speak out and the perpetrator will be taken to court.

Are the children able to access professional help and what happens to those who don’t?

All children are able to access professional help from various GCN stakeholders lie counselors and Girls Empowerment monitors trained by Girl Child Network. The help is however, overwhelmed by the number of girls in need of psychotherapy. GCNZ has various methods which include trying to integrate girls into Girls Empowerment Villages s, schools, families, churches,

GCNZ has qualified personnel with indigenous methods on therapy which allows the girls to be in charge of the healing process to counsel the girls and support them in areas of need.

GCNZ is guided by its Child Protection Policy and several other policies to handle child abuse issues on a daily basis.

GCNZ works to transform sexually abuse girls from victims to survivors. Girls have a platform  where they deliberate on girls’ issues and the effects on them as girls. This sphere is the only such model in Zimbabwe, the Girls Empowerment Clubs (GEC). The club is headed by girls with help from teachers as Club Coordinators. The girls are trained and provided with information on leadership and supporting each other. Girls interact in various activities which include: team building, play activities, writing poetry, songs, drama and dances. Art is therapy. Thus, the clubs provide therapy for survivors of sexual abuse. Girls clubs are peer support groups and constitute a professional network of girls.

Due to incapacity the organization also refers cases to Family Support Trust, Child Line, and social welfare among others.

I understand that 40-60% of rape cases dealt with at health facilities are related to children. Is this true and how much does this translate into figures (how many children are treated for rape related illness and injuries?

No agreed statistics have been given so far regarding figures, but most girls in the periphery areas do not have access to medication due to lack of information. As an organization, we refer all our cases to hospitals and clinics with help from the police. You can refer to general hospitals for records.

What are the effects of sexual abuse on children in terms of physical and psychological impact?

Sexual abuse is gravely cruel to the girl child. She is at the receiving end of the negative effects of this highly negative act. A child, whose body is immature (a body not ready for sex), is forced into the heinous act. She has no mental capacity to understand what will be done to her. This worsens when she has to go in for HIV treatment and court and police get involved. All whilst girls of her age are in school. The trauma of dealing with abuse effects lead to:

-Poor performance in social and educational communities

-The child may have low self esteem

Social labeling may remove her  from the community and create a totally different person out of her (depending on the support she gets or does not get after abuse, a child may accept abuse as the norm and live with the negative health and physical side effects).  She may suffer from stifled development; mentally she may remain a child even when she is a grown woman.

Physically a child may develop a disability like a damaged spine, forcing her into a wheel chair. With such a situation culminating difficulties for the entire family, it may lead to abandonment. The organization is currently grappling with such cases. The child may be infected with HIV and AIDS, or she may fall pregnant. She may fail to handle the issues and commit suicide or run away from home. If she has no one to take her in, she may end up in a more life-threatening situation. When she grows into adulthood, history may force her into insecurity for the remaining part of her life.

Above all this, just think of the general effects of a child whose innocence is robbed of and the memory of living with this. It cannot be erased from her mind and she cannot wash away the feeling. Yet she is in a community that labels those who could have gone through this horrific event.

What does a child robbed of her childhood do?

Permanent physical and emotional scars are present, and many are haunted by nightmares all their lives. Our examination here in Zimbabwe only focuses on the physical side of things, whereas a child who is in and out of court to prove a rapist raped her is tormented, stigmatized, blamed and made to feel shame. Many times she is labeled loose. Conditions are worse in a culture that emphasizes girls as a form of purity and a show of dignity in a marriage, yet this girl is raped and all that stolen away. The punishment on the girl is unbearable.

Some  girls  are made to testify in open court and forced say words like ’penis’, which are taboo.  Having to attend school or play with friends in cases where girls are pregnant and becoming mothers when they are supposed to be children is too much of a burden on these girls; more so, girls that have contracted STIs and have had to be hospitalized instead of being in class. In some cases, girls are in bedrooms instead of being in class It means a child endures slavery of the lowest form and she will not grow to her full potential.

Hundreds of girls are abused per day in the country, and for various social, cultural, religious, and political reasons most of these cases go unreported. Based on our statistics, the number is conservative as it excludes girls in remote parts of the country. Most of the cases we receive come from Chitungwiza, Hwange, Rusape and Chihota. It is worse off for those who cannot access the modern day forms of communication, and those made to accept sexual abuse as a norm

How do they relate to man after the rape?

Girls end up living with insecurity and low self esteem in a society where virginity is highly held and a girl is expected to remain one until marriage Trust issues wreck the marriage. Some girls will never find joy in sex when they get married, as they have a negative attitude towards men. If they do not get enough counseling, a girl may model her life and set priorities or join a professional field with the aim of destroying men; wanting to set the record and ensure all such perpetrators face the wrath of the law. Professions such as medical, law and police -not that these are bad professions- are common. But for a girl to get into these professions just to dedicate her time to fighting and ensuring perpetrators of abuse are punished is not healthy. Seeing herself in place of the survivors she is helping is painful and unfair on her part. She will be leading a bitter life. Man will be a nightmare to many survivors, especially if they do not get counseling after the abuse.

How are the girls integrating or failing to integrate into the society after the rape?

If the victim does not get enough counseling she will go into self exile. Due to beliefs and myths held in society, the girl may suffer low self-esteem. Girls, depending on the abuse, may be thrown out by their families. Rejected on the grounds or accusations that they may have disrupted the family by having the father, brother, uncle, etc (being the perpetrator) arrested.

However, GCNZ works with traditional leaders and other social leaders who are part of GCNZ’s child monitoring committees. They have a great understanding on sexual abuse and its effects on girls. They teach girls how to return to the community and provide the necessary requirements of having her back in the community.

For those who would have been rejected, GCNZ takes them and houses them in its GEVs until such a time when they can be reunified with loved ones. Girls involved in our Girls Empowerment Clubs are already in a group that offers support, a friend, and a voice; a space where their voices can be heard through their writing, poems, plays, songs and other arts.

A child is supposed to feel at home in her place of birth. You will find out that a child can no longer feel at home in a community she has been abused in, and where the community was never there for her after the abuse; a community that threatens and accuses her or blames her for the abuse she has suffered.  It’s unfortunate for those girls who are abused, and the perpetrator is freed corruptly. Having to see him walk free, enjoying life, whilst the girl suffers the loss of an irreplaceable part of her is difficult. If the girl is ‘forced’ to stay in that place, she is forever tormented. That area is never home to her but a reminder of a horrible experience.

What is GCN doing to curb child sexual abuse?

GCNZ has in place GEC, where girls interact as girls and get to be educated and taught issues on sexual abuse. As mentioned earlier, these are spaces for girls. Thus, girls’ issues are deliberated by girls and they come up with their own solutions and measures to curb sexual abuse.

GCN is following up on reported cases; information is disseminated to girls, their parents, and other various stakeholders in the community that they should report all cases of sexual abuse to the police and other responsible authorities.

GCN carries awareness campaigns against sexual abuse, which encompass: early marriages, arranged and forced marriages, trafficking, and rape. The organization’s IDD Department researches, documents and disseminates information to girls and the community. This involves creation and designing of IEC material such as brochures, pamphlets, flyers, banners and the Intouch Newsflash for girls. The organization has facilitated the recording of music by girls voicing against sexual and other forms of abuse. It has also encouraged parents to put forth measures for their daughters and dependents who are girls, so they will always be in open spaces whenever they mix with members of the opposite sex.

I heard that you are putting together a Girls Empowerment it for professionals based on your many years of dealing with girls ?How far with this project?

I am actually through with putting together materials on Girls transforming from victims to leaders using our Girl Child Network Model to be shared in many parts of Africa where we do not have counselors, teachers or psychologists. In the manual we offer many indigenous methods on healing that I found to be effective for rape victims with hope that healing becomes an individual, family and community responsibility.

This will be out soon. Our work now at Girl Child Network Worldwide is to establish a center for Excellency to share some of our best practices.