By: Mwila Mwila
A Fantastic Job Well was done to everyone who has been in the forefront in the fight for Girl-Child educational Campaigns all across Africa and everyone from the Western Countries who spear headed and or funded any of such Campaigns. It is such a joy, we have almost crossed the hurdles and impediments of Girl Child Educational hindrances in Africa, although free elementary education still remains a parliamentary debate on the lips of so many obviously unconcerned politicians, who usually bring up such debates only to come across as relevant, for votes or to maintain their political positions. But hey, with further pushing and a little more added pressure, we will be able to speak of an African with at least free Elementary education. And we sure can.
It is good to note that, today, most Africans can testify to the fact that, that old Custom traditional mentality, that hindered and stopped girl child education with beliefs that investing in a girl’s Education is a sheer waste of time, limiting her role to that of house chores, getting married, having as many babies, raising a family and, or maybe work somewhere as a house helper , or in a restaurant, is almost a complete wiped off myth, even in the remotest parts of the Sub-Saharan Africa, as the educational awareness Campaigns for a girl Child’s education continues to spread, raising the confidence and self-esteem of many girls, who thankfully now dream of becoming something bigger and better than just a homemaker.
This sure once was an uphill battle, but it is almost completely won as more and more girls are in schools and in the past two decades, it has become normal to see girls graduate and going on further to assume National, Continental and even up to Global Leadership roles formerly mostly dominated by Male figures only.
Having founded a Foundation for Children and Youth Educational, Social and Economic Empowerment, at a very tender age, which obviously demands me to travel extensively, especially to the remotest parts of African countries, on speaking engagements, taking donations and spotting vulnerable but determined children and youth to connect with well-wishers, willing to quietly, and on personal basis, out of their own good will, invest in individual scholarships, it has been sad for me to note that, while the battle for girl-child education is clearly being won, the foundation on which to breed happier, fulfilled educated girls and women leaders still lays fallow, as, after all, the problem hasn’t been a lack of Education all along, but rather a conducive and Loving environment where a girl child can grow up in, feeling protected, fought for and supported by especially her family members, Customary, Society, and Government Laws.
Now while the campaign for girl-child education in Africa mostly started off with the Western Countries breaking the customary paradigms in most of our founding Leaders, discouraging the traditions that hindered and stopped girls from pursuing an education, after they themselves noted by experience that educating girls is a sure-fire way to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutritional status, health, and radically reduce poverty, which most men wouldn’t handle correctly with some things being inherent, I believe the fight to create an atmosphere conducive to raise African girls on, will have to come from African Leaders themselves, who will have to create very strict and tight Laws that will make anyone think twice before they can violate a girl-child. When others see perpetrators brought to justice harshly, it certainly will bring about a pause and some ripple effects.
And this change will need to extend beyond the government, to engage families, the opinion leaders, traditional Leaders, religious leaders, the elders and their chiefs, in an effort to change attitudes and paradigms, as they are often the gatekeepers. African families and parents especially must be taught to build much closer, intimate and trusting relationships with their own children in order to create an atmosphere conducive enough for emotional vulnerability and help influence their life choices at teenage age. I strongly agree that the education brought to us by the Western leadership has greatly helped liberate the minds of many teenage girls in Africa, who are now growing up with ambitions other than the former school of thought that limited girls to the kitchen and child bearing and has done a lot of good on the Continent, but greater Continental developmental responsibility remains unattended on the part of the African family elders and Leaders.
Through my interactions with so many teenage girls around Africa, I have sadly noted that despite the educational liberation, many teenage girls still remain unprotected sexually and feel not just let down by the Law, by also greatly violated.
As cheap news as it may sound, a blind eye and deaf ear can’t continue to be given to the fact that, two out of four girls in Africa have been sexually violated from a very tender age by Men and Women with untamed sexual urges in the name of tradition, culprits who know the Law and society is too weak to protect your Girls and Children at large, hence what should be shocking rape incidences don’t even qualify to make Headline News in our African Continent, unless it is a political vendetta where obviously someone gains something out of it.
It is contrary to the very tenets of humanity that our defenseless young girls are being preyed upon by mostly adult men and some women without strict sanctions.
Some of the bigger causes of these issues are the power relations between older men and young vulnerable teenage girls‚ which is often compounded by poverty‚ customs and tradition that turn a blind eye to such violence. How I look for the Africa soon to form, that will instead of celebrating‚ encouraging, ignoring or just merely laugh about the practice of traditions that violate a teenage girl while stealing her childhood and innocence, would instead strongly condemn such inhumane, outdated and out of hand practices or else the girl-child educational empowerment positive strides which have been made will keep producing bitter angry women who are themselves incapable of making happy homes and raising fulfilled confident Children.
And most of our unfought for teenage girls who have been victims of rape forced marriages and teenage pregnancies, tend to reveal numerous health complications for the young girls of their age. These range from HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) to pregnancy related complications such as infant mortality and maternal mortality, lowering their life expectancy, yet still, no strict Laws seem to be put into place to protect our girl-child. And many girls that have fought to beat the odds, usually become educated angry and bitter women with a short life expectancy due to infectious diseases passed onto them during rape.
Well, I assume by now the whole world has heard about the Nigerian Chibok Girls, I won’t be getting into it in this article at least. For now, maybe the world also has to hear enough to provoke action, about the Hyena man in Malawi, the HIV Positive man, who raped and infected over 80 teenage girls as young as 12 years old in the name of tradition. How it could even get to more than 80 girls and even just how this man could easily talk about it to press with a smile shows what an uphill battle it is for the liberation of a Girl -Child from her Sexual predators.
And then we have what is called, Ukuthwala, a tradition which is still being practiced, particularly in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, which involves the kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of minor girls as young as 12 years of age, by grown men old enough to be their grandfathers. This tradition which steals innocence causes an abrupt end to a girl’s Childhood and the care free existence that all children are entitled to, is strongly upheld in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa in this day and age.
Can you imagine? Suddenly the little girl is a wife with a husband and almost instantly, her own Children and in-laws to serve or look after.
It is things like these that most teenage girls are still suffering from in Africa. Actually, my own Research on this tradition has proven that the majority of the girls and young women who are victims of Ukuthwala are from poor families and later in life, their lack of education and underdevelopment due to this tradition deepens their poverty and perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
My Mom often says, in several instances, the children born into poverty also tend to be poorer as grownups, which contributes to the cycle of poverty in the communities around Africa, even though the issue of rape is not only in the poorer areas but also very apparent in the average and wealthy areas, even though in such places it is often disguised and subtly labelled as ” Romantic” relationships.
I once visited a teenage girl in jail serving a sentence, for strangling to death and throwing a baby she had given birth to, in a pit latrine toilet in one of the South African locations, and when she opened up to me on how she fell pregnant, without coming across as condoning what was done to the baby, who also had a right to life, I somehow understood her bitterness that led to her action. She was bitter against the man that had abused her and impregnated her without anyone doing anything about it, and she couldn’t conceive the thought of seeing the man in that child for the rest of her life and even if the child was to be given up for adoption, she basically didn’t want her abuser alive and since she couldn’t masculine him, she, unfortunately, had to take out her pressure in that child.
When I was a teenager growing up in Lusaka, Zambia, a family I knew closely and often visited, went through a trauma, in which their only 12-year-old Daughter was discovered to have had sex with all the male workers at their residence, and this family had more than 5 male workers including an older man, who was over 74 years old, working as a gardener at the same Residence. When the lady maid in the helper caught one of the five workers having sex with the 12 years old girl, the daughter of the house, the guy then decided to reveal that he was not the only one having sex with this girl and if he had to go to jail all of the male workers had to go with him as they all had slept with her including this over 74-year-old man. What was even sadder was that, after being tested for HIV, they were all tested positive for HIV including this teenage girl. Now what shocked me even though, I was only a 15 year old teenager myself at that time, was the fact that, after the hype of that week, none of these men were jailed for more than three months, and the oldest man even got released within a few days of bail hearing, because apparently, while he could manage to have sex with this young girl, he was too old and frail to go to jail or serve a prison sentence for this. I was only a teenager, but I remember how my spirit sunk as my Mom broke that news to me. Unfortunately, everyone including my Mom seemed to blame this 12-year-old girl for sleeping with over 5 men, and I remember fighting that, it was totally unjust to blame this girl as she was young and although already a Christian at that time, vengeance seemed to be burning in my heart against these men, I longed for some sort of harsh spiritual punishment against them, just somehow, since the Zambian Law had failed my wish and I felt so disappointed in the Government and Police, it was actually at that point, I lost confidence in our Zambian Police Services. For the very first time, I faced the harsh reality that justice does not exist for a girl Child in my Country.
Three years ago, I visited a dear wonderful family in Zimbabwe and my friend told me of a story that had brought such shame in their family, where my friend’s Grandfather, impregnated a 14-year-old girl in the extended family who was given to him to help with his house chores as he mourned the passing of his wife he had been married to since his youth, my friend’s Grandmother.
Upon confrontation, after people noticed the pregnancy of this 14-year-old teenage girl, his excuse was of course tradition. Asked to marry this girl and sad enough, he was allowed to take this teenage girl for a wife. I’m talking about a man in his late 80’s.
My question is, how could sex with a minor still be labeled tradition, turn into marriage and think we are a liberated Continent celebrating various years of independence? Who really got liberated in Africa?
In 2016, it was discovered that more than 2‚000 girls under the age of 18 in the rural Ratlou Local Municipality‚ about 70km outside Mahikeng in North West, had been impregnated‚ mostly by older men and the youngest mother was reported to be a teenager of only 12 years. Now, I visited this place and what shocked me was that there were no reports of rape from any of the girls I spoke with or their families, a pain that has eaten my soul as I serve my Continent in South Africa.
One time, I remember, having sexual pictures in evidence of a married Church Leader, with a Congregation of over five thousand members who was having sex with a 15-year-old teenage girl, to an extent of exchanging nude pictures and videos with her.
When this girl discovered that this Minister was also having sex with her friend in the same Church, she got heart broken and decided to approach me and talk to me. Well, not because she wanted to finally spill the beans, but because she was heartbroken, with this guy being her very first Love, and he had sworn he was in love with her and she had of course believed him as any child would, and had been having an affair with her for 4 years by the time she was 15 years old, when she approached me, while still attending the same Church. When I heard this and saw the evidence, which she had in fact sworn to delete, but kept some for fun, I decided to approach her family, as I needed consent to take this Pastor to Jail and Bouy was that the mistake of my life?
This family which seemed upset at the news and welcoming my idea of handing this man to the authorities, went behind my back the next day, approached the Pastor, who offered them a few Dollars and then went ahead and turned the girl against me.
The next time I bumped into this girl, a few months later after that incident, she was in the vehicle with this pastor and a few other men and one lady, accompanying their Pastor on a trip to preach outside of town. Of course, you don’t think I bought her being part of the team was innocent, do you? But what else could I have done when the family of the girl could easily make money out of the 15-year-old teenage girl? I was disempowered.
As I mentioned earlier, the change to bring about the protection of teenage girls will need to extend beyond the government, to engaging families, traditional leaders, religious leaders, elders and chiefs in an effort to change paradigms, traditions, and attitudes as they are often the gatekeepers, even in the girl-child’s life. Any community and any National development hugely depend on its people and this includes the level of health, knowledge and educational skills and the resources controlled by those people.
I have had so many sad experiences that not only leave me and many other people involved with different organizations dealing with teenage girls and women shocked, but handcuffed and disempowered to do anything at all to protect such girls where families prefer getting funds out of their abuse, with the police advising me that no case can be opened unless the family gave full consent, probably not realising the defining depth of Male’s involvement in a Girl’s life especially at early development stage which influences her future life, shapes her Perception and Opinion of MEN, Self-Esteem, Self-image, and Confidence, either in a Positive or a Negative way. Sad.
Surely, unprecedented and decisive action has to be put into place to end such and maybe even send some parents and relatives to jail for contributing to this ill through financial gain. Honestly, when 2 000 underage girls show up pregnant in one small community and mostly by older Men, indicates a pandemic that lays in the fabric of that society.
A certain 45 years old lady I met in Swaziland, was raped when she was only 15 years old in School, by her class Teacher, she got pregnant and gave birth to a boy, who is now in his 20’s, and all these years later, she is still trying to learn to accept and Love, something that is not easily spoken about in our African Societies, as most people don’t understand the future repercussions of sexual abuse on the emotional and mental life of a girl growing up into a woman. What is even more insane is that this rapist is still a School teacher.
Think about it, how many teenage girls are his victims today since the one family refused to speak out for fear of shame in the community, or getting little funds out of it, or simply letting it go?
And by the way, if it is a Woman found to be sexually abusing a teenage girl, it is not even considered a taboo in Africa and yet we now deal with such many cases where teenage girls confide in us of how an Aunty or Helper uncomfortably touches their private parts in the name of girl’s playful time.
I know the issue of sexual abuse has been spoken of, over and over in Africa, until as I mentioned earlier, does not even make Headline News, unless it is a political feud, where something is in it for someone somewhere, hence it becomes more and more shocking for me when I hear Bills that states that children between the ages of 12 and 15 can consent to sexual acts with each other, being adopted by the South African National Assembly and get signed into Law. It is shocking that, these elders have failed and literally done nothing to fight the highest Sexual abuse Predators in the Nation and now, despite the World Health Organization warning and confirming that South Africa has the highest number of HIV infected cases in the World, they can still pass such a law for a child whose brain is scientifically proven to not have been developed enough to make reliable emotional decisions of their own, normalizing what should be regarded as sexual offenses and wiping off the guilty of all adults that once or repeatedly touches these young girls. I always say, I wish our African Politicians in Parliaments and various positions could go beyond Political Positions, titles, fame, and glamour, once in a while, leave their offices, take off their expensive Suits, be disguised as youth Workers or Missionaries, come with us to our Project centres, personally interact with many of the teenagers and Youth out in the Communities, I believe they would rule better and we would see Africa develop rapidly, because then, they will know exactly what they need to do from first-hand experience and personal interactions with the people they are leading, instead of this near election time, generous attitudes which even the dullest person knows to be manipulation and a lack of Leadership.
I can, therefore, summarize the challenges African Teenage Girls suffer into two major parts: Traditions that steal their innocence and Loose Constitutional Laws that fail to protect the rights of innocent defenseless teenage girls and Children.
I remember recently holding the shoulder of a heart broken sobbing man in South Africa, whose teenage daughter was raped by his long time older neighbor friend, married with older Children. When this man took the case to the police, nothing much could be done as this man was influential in the community and the police could use a little bribe after all, so it was another weak end for another Teenage girl.
My thinking always is, couldn’t Courts and systems be put in place, specifically for such matters, where it will be impossible for culprits to escape standing trial? Because there has been no harsh punishment rendered, this continues to be an epidemic, that keeps destroying what Girl-child educational empowerment campaigns are building and have built through the years, making the future of Africa so blur as Women decide to play masculine roles out of Bitterness for lack of Protection.
See, we often have Celebrated Visible DIFFERENT TYPES OF Cancer Survivors, But we forget and have through the years ignored one of the worst and deadliest forms of Cancer, that has killed and Continues to claim the lives of More Women, baby Girls and Teenage Girls, more than Breast or Cervix Cancer has ever claimed, and this particular Cancer is called: Girl-Child ABUSE CANCER.
As a matter of fact, there are more YOUNG GIRLS AND women who are suffering from and Die of Emotional Wounds THAN PHYSICAL SICKNESS IN SOME LONELY CONER SOMEWHERE all over the Continent of Africa, disappointed that no one could protect their innocence. Actually different forms of physical Cancers in Women is proven to mostly be caused by emotional wounds which usually turn into stress and severe Chronic Depression, causing Physical Cancers.
Most sexually abused Girls who have grown into Women, barely Exist, because the Will to LIVE gets stolen from them by Cruel Men and are often proven not to have a normal Life, without proper help Love and counseling, and are also proven to have a short Lifespan. Hence the reason I say, A WOMAN WHO IS A SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIM, WHO DESPITE ALL THE TRAUMA, is DETERMINED TO LIVE AND NOT JUST MERELY EXIST AND CONTINUE RISING AGAINST ALL ODDS, even unto the betterment of human life is WORTH CELEBRATING, and especially by Sane Men out there, who are willing to put up a fight to protect Women against Sexual abuse!
Saving a Girl’s life even if it’s from a single cause of death means saving Many Lives likely to live quite a while longer. May their rise an urgency in the Law to strictly Protect a Girl-Child in Africa!
Ground Takers Foundation(GTF)
Cell: +27 84 539 7102