By Ntsebeng Motsoeli
MASERU — ‘Meisi (not her real name) of Ha-Toloane could not stop blaming herself for the rape of her 15-year-old daughter.
She wishes she had done the right thing to report her brother to the police when her daughter first revealed that he had raped her.
But because she thought involving the police would “ruin” her family relations she kept it to herself.
She says she did not want to see her brother jailed.
She says she thought she could deal with the ordeal alone to avoid shame “but now the matter has gone too far”.
There was the first time; then the second and now it’s the third.
She is horrified.
The assailant is the same: that brother she sought to protect for the sake of “family peace” when her daughter made the first revelation.
It does not seem like his brother will stop his evil deeds.
‘Meisi is still reluctant to talk about it. She has not reported the matter to the police either.
Neighbours have started gossiping about it and the humiliation is too much.
But as the girl was about to recover, she was gang-raped twice.
“They might have known about the first incident. They realised that I did not report the matter to the police and they took advantage of my silence,” ‘Meisi says.
She still believes that she had a good cause to hide the agony of her daughter.
‘Meisi believes that she was trying to save her daughter from the tormenting remarks of the villagers.
Rape victims have been stigmatised in the village and ‘Meisi did not want her daughter to go through the same torment. Yet now the silence is eating her. It does not seem like his brother will stop.
And ‘Meisi is now trapped in her deceitful silence.
On the second rape incident her daughter was infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) but that did not make her report the matter.
‘Meisi says she went to the clinic and lied about how her daughter contracted the STD.
“I described the symptoms as if they were on me. I could not bring her to the clinic because I would have had to mention that she was raped.
“I was just trying to protect her and our family relations. I did not think it would happen again,” she said.
“I was scared that I would be condemned for keeping quiet about the first incident. Anyway it was already too late. Nothing I did could take away the pain my child went through.”
Many mothers and parents are going through the same nightmare like ‘Meisi.
When faced with a rape perpetrated on their children by a family member many parents have been torn between the “family” and “what is right at law”.
In the cultural context there is always the pressure to protect the family both from “humiliation” and avoid sending a relative to prison.
In most cases the family normally takes precedence and many rape cases go unreported in Lesotho.
In some cases victims do not report their ordeal as discussing sex between children and parents is taboo.
Studies have also revealed that women could not report husbands who sexually abuse their children.
Many girls experience physical and sexual abuse within their families.
Girls from poor families are often placed in households of wealthier extended families as domestic servants, where further abuse occurs.
Poverty plays a bigger role in a parent’s reluctance to report the matter.
‘Mamonkela Lehana of Mafoleng says she could not confront her live-in boyfriend who raped her 10-year-old daughter two months ago.
She did not report the matter to the police.
She says she was out to look for “piece jobs” when she came back home in the afternoon to receive a report from her daughter that her stepfather had hurt her.
“She was hiding in a corner in the dark room when I came home. She was terrified and would not talk to me. When I pulled her by the hand she resisted and cried hysterically.
“I could see that something was wrong. I nagged her to talk to me until she told me that he had raped her during the day,” Lehana says.
“She was in so much pain. She was bleeding. She was traumatised and was threatened.”
Instead of reporting the matter Lehana chose the easy route of silence.
She says she was afraid her boyfriend would harm her.
“I did not have the courage to ask him why he had done it. I was afraid of him because he is a bully. He would beat me up if I did,” she says.
Child Help Line co-ordinator Kananelo Moholi says child rape is widespread in Lesotho.
Moholi says they have received many reports where young girls were raped by their fathers, relatives or people close to them.
“Young girls are raped at an alarming rate. In most cases they are raped by people who are very close to them like relatives and men from their own societies,” Moholi says.
She says they recently dealt with a case where a father repeatedly raped his disabled 14-year-old daughter and impregnated her.
According to Moholi, the girl was living with her elder sister and their father.
She says the girl’s sister was away when their father raped her.
“When the sister came back, she discovered some changes in her little sister’s body. She took her to a clinic where her pregnancy test came out positive.”
“They were shocked when she disclosed that their father had raped her repeatedly,” she says.
Moholi says it was only after they were advised by the clinic that they were able to report the rape to the police.
The father was arrested for rape.
He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“The clinic took the initiative to inform us about the rape. We fear that if they did not, the family might not have done so. The little girl would have had to live with the man who raped her,” she says.
Moholi says it is disappointing that family members do not report such cases to protect perpetrators.
“It is so sad that family members keep rape cases a secret. They do not realise that they put victims at risk of being raped again,” she says.
Moholi says in another incident in Mokhotlong a family did not report to the police when their daughter was raped by three village boys.
“They had agreed that the families of the perpetrators should pay them M3 000 each so that they could stop involving the police,” she says.
She says the numbers of unreported cases of rape were feared to be much higher than reported.
“Unreported cases of rape might be more than imagined. Rape is increasing in Lesotho and people do not want to report it.”
Moholi says another reason why some cases go unreported is because some victims are terrified to tell their families about the rape.
“Hence the Lesotho Save the Children launched the toll-free child help line to make it easier for them to report any form of abuse against them, including rape,” she says.
The 2005 Child Gender Protection Unit report says that 50 percent of rape cases in Lesotho were among teenagers, 29 percent of children aged five-17 years were involved in some sort of enforced labour and 43 percent of sexual abuses occurred in the home of the victim.