In Summary

PARENTS AND GUARDIANS turned monsters. Your parent or guardian is one of the people you confide in the most and have leeway to consult as and when you want.
However, some take advantage of the situation when they pry on the girl child. GILLIAN NANTUME met with such victims and they narrated their ordeals.

On a hot Saturday afternoon, you would expect a 24-year-old woman to be relaxing at the beach, especially if it is near her home. Instead, Joyce Nakanjako is washing clothes outside a garage that doubles as her friend’s bedsitter. The house at Kasenyi landing site is surrounded by greenery. A tranquil place, hiding a lot of pain.

When her nine-months-old baby cries, Nakanjako swings the child onto her back and then, bends into the basin again. You would never believe that Nakanjako is suffering from untreated malaria. She has to wait until Monday for a certain Nalongo to give her Coartem tablets. Washing clothes pays her monthly rent of Shs20,000. Although she works at a restaurant, her daily salary is a plate of food, which she shares with her three children.

Humble beginning
In 2008, Nakanjako, then 15, was living with her mother and two siblings in Nakasozi, Buddo, Mpigi District.
“I was in Primary Six at Buddo Preparatory School, but my mother struggled to get school fees,” she narrates.
“Our last born fell sick and died because there was no money to buy medicine. When I asked why our father did not help, my mother said his behaviour was unbearable. That is why she had left him.”

Nakanjako’s father, Samwiri Mugerwa, was living with his new wife in Kantuntu village, Kifampa parish, Gomba District. He was the village chairman and LC2. A short time after her brother died, Mugerwa appeared in Nakasozi, demanding custody of Nakanjako claiming he wanted to educate her.

“In Gomba, I discovered his wife had left him, and my stepsiblings were living with our grandmother. It was only my father and I in the house. He told me I was ripe for marriage. He did not have money for school fees. I insisted I wanted to study.”

Preparing for uncertainties
Instead, after six months, Mugerwa sent her to Masaka to her ssengas (paternal aunts) for sex education. When Nakanjako returned after a month, her grandmother was very hostile to her.
“She always abused me. She wanted to undress and curse me. I wondered why she hated me. One night, I woke up only to find my father sitting on my bed. I wondered what he wanted at that time. The nearest home was five kilometres away. No one heard my screams. (She starts crying). He assured me he had a lot of power in the village. I bore that problem (rape) for a year. He raped me almost every night.

Mugerwa locked his daughter indoors, only letting her out to answer nature’s call. He infected her with gonorrhea and when she became pregnant, with the help of a medical doctor, he tried to induce an abortion by forcing pills down her throat and putting her on endless intravenous drips.

Child rape is common

According to the Annual Crime and Traffic/Road Safety Report 2013, among the leading crimes of that year, defilement took second place with 9,598 cases. A total of 4,931 cases were taken to court but only 359 convictions were secured. Asia Namusoke Mbajja, a nurse, social worker, and founder of PINA-Uganda, says when rape is committed by relatives, it is rarely reported.

“Our organisation launched a campaign, Because I Am a Girl, to fight sexual violence against girls. In three days, I received Facebook messages from 22 girls saying they were being raped by relatives.”

One 16-year-old girl was waylaid by her father in the bathroom. He wanted to “see” if she had developed “properly”. After repeated rapes, she reported to her stepmother but the man bought the latter’s silence with a gomesi and phone. When the girl was finally rescued, she was pregnant and had HIV/Aids.

Rape is all about power
Because perpetrators threaten their victims with physical harm, the latter are forced to continually interact with the rapist. Shakira Namwanje, 23, was raped by a close relative at her uncle’s home when she was eight.

“My parents usually distributed us to different relatives while they went to work. My uncle’s wife had left him with a six-month-old baby, so it was just the baby, uncle, and I at home. The man who raped me was tall and muscular. He threatened to kill me and I thought if I talked, he would rape me again. I had to face the trauma of seeing that man frequently.”

It took Namwanje three years to speak out. At her uncle’s funeral, Namwanje revealed her secret to her elder sister. Devastated, Namwanje’s mother took her for an HIV test. The result was positive. Namwanje’s sister was volunteering at PINA-Uganda and introduced the family to Mbajja.
“There were terrible things about that rape that Shakira did not disclose to her family,” Mbajja says.

“I advised her never to make them public. It affected her healing process, but now as an adult she can make that decision.”

Mbajja admits she does not engage the police.
“We do not expect much from them. Many cases have died because fathers bribe policemen. We rehabilitate children and counsel the mothers. The child has to cope with the trauma of being raped by someone she trusted, and having to take ARVs daily.”

Support systems important
The differences between Nakanjako and Namwanje are almost tangible. Their outlook to life is different. Namwanje’s parents engaged a counsellor immediately.

“My mother closed in. She blamed herself and would not talk to me. We communicated through the counsellor (Mbajja). The counsellor revealed to me my HIV status and visited me at school to monitor my health. For a long time, I blamed my mother.”
Mbajja introduced Namwanje to other children living with HIV/Aids.

“We have stuck together, encouraging each other to take our ARVs. We give talks at HIV/Aids functions. Whenever I narrate my story, girls approach me, intimating that their fathers or uncles are defiling them, yet their mothers are aware.”

Namwanje is the face behind Because I am a Girl. Mbajja says the mental pictures of how the rape happened never leave the victim.
“If she is not supported emotionally, she can commit suicide or get a mental disorder. Reliving the experience is core to the healing process. We talk about it and let them cry freely. Some victims, after continuous rape, may begin to sexually desire the rapist. These are things we must talk through.”
For Nakanjako, the story is different. When she told her mother about the rapes, she broke down.

“Maama cried all the time. She began drinking, sleeping in bars and even failed to run her restaurant.”
Her grief soon turned into hatred. When drunk, she told everyone Nakanjako had stolen her husband. “She said I was scheming for her new husband. I think she lost her mind, telling me I should have died instead of shaming her before her in-laws. My ssengas disowned and cursed me, blaming me for the death of their brother.”

Victim trauma is increased by emotional abuse from close family. “One girl told me she was tired of taking ARVs,” Mbajja says.
“She had Shs5,000 with which she wanted to buy poison. After uncontrolled tears, it turned out that she blamed her elder sister who was her best friend, for choosing to go and work in another town. I called the sister and left them in a room to cry and sort themselves out.”

Nakanjako believes if a well-wisher gave her capital to start a small charcoal business, she can take care of her children and ignore the wiles of men.

Dealing with the psychological problems

Many rape victims find solace in destructive behaviour because they feel used and dirty. Nakanjako has tried to find comfort in men. When her baby was two-weeks-old, a 50-year-old man ‘married’ her.

“I thought I had found peace. I did not tell him I had HIV/Aids. He soon got to know when his tenant met me at a TASO clinic. He was angry, but I had also secretly seen him swallowing tablets. So, we were even.”

The marriage ended after 18 months when Nakanjako’s mother told the man about her past. Nakanjako was pregnant but her husband beat her and threw her out. “My mother disowned me, saying she cannot live with her co-wife. I was breastfeeding, pregnant, homeless, and taking ARVs.”

Parents of rape victims are also traumatised and need counselling to enable them support the child because a mother’s betrayal is often worse than the pain of the rape. For a while, Nakanjako worked at a restaurant until another man seduced her. He soon abandoned her, pregnant, when he heard about her past.
Thoughts of suicide are her constant companion. Her tears are never far away. “No one cares or wants me. I last saw my mother five years ago. My brother lives nearby but he does not talk to me. (She starts crying again). At one point, I wanted to kill myself and the children.”

When guardians turn accomplices

Because of poverty, many parents accept bribes from offenders to ‘kill’ the case. When Nakanjako escaped from her father’s house, she stole a bowl of coffee beans from his granary, sold it for Shs3,000, and walked five miles to her aunt’s home. Instead of reporting to the police, the aunt told the girl to travel to her mother’s home in Buddo.

“I boarded a taxi but the money was not enough, so the conductor confiscated my clothes,” Nakanjako says. “My mother had shifted, with her new man, to Kasenyi. When I found her, I was too scared to tell her what had happened. But, I was sickly and always crying. She probed to know what was wrong with me.”

Nakanjako’s mother who has HIV/Aids, immediately told her TASO coordinator about her daughter’s plight. They took the girl for an HIV/Aids test. The result was positive. The women reported Mugerwa to the police, and he was arrested in 2010. From Luzira Prison, Mugerwa disowned his daughter, and her baby girl. In a surprising twist, when Mugerwa’s relatives offered her money, Nakanjako’s mother dropped the case. Mugerwa was released and lived two more years before his death.