At 11 years, while in Primary Five, Irene Namazzi’s (not real names) aunt was not able to pay her school fees. She got for her a job to work as a house-help in Munyonyo, a Kampala suburb.
At a place she did not know, her focus was to work, earn and make life better for her and her siblings back in the village. Unfortunately, her dreams were later shattered by the man who was meant to protect her.
Because she was vulnerable, she was bound to listen to all instructions from her bosses. Two months later, she says the man started subjecting her to bad touches whenever he met her in dark corners.
“When I started working, I used to hear people gossiping about how the man used to take advantage of the girls that worked in his home. It did not bother me then because I was not directly affected. However, when he started making advances to me, I became cautious,” she says.
Irene says she decided to do all her chores and leave the main house before the man returned home. While in her room, she would bolt the door to her small room that was right next to the gate.
But one day, in her forth month, her boss’s husband had not come back home for dinner, something she says prompted her to work at leisure and even take a few hours of chitchat with the occupants of the home who were older than her.
The fateful night
At 10pm, she went to her room that was far from the main house and had no proper lighting. When she entered the room, a man got hold of her hand.
“It was my boss’s husband,” she reveals. Recalling his words “I love you and can’t stop thinking about you, but never tell anyone about our affair. I will take good care of you and I will buy all the nice things you want.” Confused and scared, Irene says she could not find the right answer. “But when he started touching my body, I tried to resist. He turned violent, locked the door and threw me on my bed. His eyes became red, he tore my skirt and told me to cooperate, lest I die. He was stronger than me and my efforts to scream or even fight back were thwarted. I was terrified but helpless. After accomplishing his mission, he left immediately,” she says.
This was the most painful experience she had ever gone through as a child. She did not wake up early the next day to do her daily chores because she felt pain. Fortunately, when the woman of the house came to find out if she was okay, she had a very high fever and so she thought she was down with malaria. Irene says shamelessly, the man came back that night and forced himself on her again, even when she was not feeling well.
“This became a routine and he started coming back sometimes during day when everyone else was away. When my aunt visited and needed to collect my monthly pay, I begged to leave with her, but she insisted I was lazy.”
At the time, Irene says she did not realise her aunt knew she was being sexually abused. She only discovered this later, when she became pregnant.
Irene narrates that it was now obvious that the man did not care if his wife knew. “One day he forced himself on me in broad day light on a Sunday when the wife was at home. When he came to the kitchen, his wife was following him. She caught him red-handed. When I tried to explain to her with hope of being helped, she instead turned the guns to me and raged with anger,”
Irene says she was told to pack her bags and she was taken back to her aunt’s home. “The cold-blooded man did not show any remorse,” she says.
It was not long before she realised she was pregnant. Her aunt took her to a local abortion clinic, where she almost haemorrhaged to death. Today, Irene is unable to have children.
Irene, a 30-year-old, who now earns a living by selling sexual favours says she feels deep hatred within her. She says she does not know who she hates most; herself, men, her defiler, her aunt or God. Defilement is a very serious social problem, which not only traumatises victims but also ruins their future.
Despite interventions, defilement remains a challenge in Uganda and continues to be one of those incessant forms of child abuse. Because of the prevalence of the vice, and in conformity with more modern methods of child care and protection, the Ugandan Parliament amended the law relating to defilement in 1990. The law raised the age of consent from 14 years to 18 years and it subjects the criminal to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
However, on several cases, suspected defilers walk away to freedom because of insufficient evidence and some cases are never reported. Most of the victims are young, receive death threats and are most of the times silenced by the offenders.
In the 2019 Annual Crime Report that was released last month by the Inspector General of Police, Martin Okoth Ochola, it stated that defilement still poses a big problem to the Police. In 2019, whereas there was decrease in defilement cases by 11.4% from 2018, a total of 13,682 children were defiled.
A report by the population secretariat 2014, indicated that a total of 300,000 girls get pregnant prematurely every year.
According to The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), at least 21 children are defiled every day in Uganda.
Defilement cases on the rise
Despite stringent laws and interventions by civil society against defilement, the number of cases reported every year are still alarming. According to the deputy Police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, some cultural beliefs are to blame for the unending vice.
“Once a girl develops breasts and starts menstruation, some people believe she is ready for marriage thus, encouraging them to become sexually active. In that process, they do not know they are committing a crime called defilement and it is difficult to separate people from their cultures and from what they believe in,” he explains.
According to Frank Baine, the spokesperson of Uganda Prisons, conviction is rare. “ Currently, a total of 5,013 inmates on charges of defilement are in prisons across the country. More than 94 per cent are on remand. Only 305 have been convicted,” says Baine.
Daphine Wadumaga, a social worker at Restored Lives Foundation, says there are misconceptions among people living with HIV that once they sleep with girls who are virgins, they will be completely healed. These men end up silently defiling young girls, infecting them with HIV. This abuse usually continues and some cases go unnoticed.
Wadumaga says children from poor families who usually drop out of school are also forced to seek for employment, in order to raise income for the family.
“In most cases, these children become victims of defilement by their employers who even threaten them with dismissal if they disclose. Some of these case remain unknown unless the victim is impregnated. That is when everyone gets concerned,” she says.
“The victims of defilement are abused by their relatives or people they know within the community, and this happens because of alcohol and drugs,” claims Wadumaga.
She reveals that when one is high on either alcohol or drugs, they often have sexual urges and instead of having sex with adults, they end up preying on young children.
Wadumaga continues to say that the other major contributing factor to defilement is the dysfunctional community, where good values and practices are no longer upheld by society.
“In the past, a child belonged to the community and whatever happened to the child was a concern for all community members. Today people have become more individualistic, neighbours will keep quiet even when they know a child is abused sexually, especially if the child does not belong to their family.”
Wadumaga says children are need to be empowered through life skills, child rights, and sexual abuse, to become resilient and play an active role in advocating for their rights at all levels.
She says child-led participation initiatives such as the children assemblies and child rights clubs in schools or communities should be supported to provide a platform for children to openly air their views
Reporting channels for child rights violation should be communicated to children.
Parents and caregivers should be encouraged to take responsibility of their children. Before sending this young to work as a house girl try to look around for education bursaries for vulnerable children to access education.
The media (especially local dialect stations) need to be actively engaged in child protection efforts because they reach a wider audience of people in terms of creating awareness.
They should also expose sexual offenders, this will help to reduce cases of child abuse within the communities,” she expresses.