MASERU — The arrest of the child’s father on August 28 for allegedly raping his daughter repeatedly and infecting her with a venereal disease in the process, was supposed to signal the end of the 10-year-old Khubetsoana girl’s nightmare.
Little had the girl known her father’s arrest by Mabote police would mark the beginning of what she had dreaded the most since the alleged abuse started last year, only a few months after the death of her mother.
After being granted bail by the court five days after his arrest, the girl’s father was back at home.
To compound the child’s misery, family members turned against her for revealing the alleged abuse to neighbours, which subsequently led to the dramatic arrest.
She would feel unsafe going to school and would remain indoors at her neighbour’s home out of fear she would be murdered for spilling the beans as she had reportedly been promised during the alleged sexual abuse.
This, in a nutshell, is the story of a brave, young girl who, with the support of her community, dared to break her silence.
A neighbour, (we shall call Morae Morae to protect the girl’s identity) took the girl into her home following the release of the father on M800 bail on September 2, but this arrangement did not last.
“It became difficult for her to go to school alone, so we had to make arrangements with one of her teachers to collect her from here and bring her back home.
“This was not always the case because at times she had to return home on her own,” Morae said.
Morae claims one day the girl returned home trembling with fear and alleging she had seen her father lurking near her school.
“As members of the community, we had to seek help from the Ministry of Social Development because we were not sure whether the child would be safe. It was a very difficult situation for her.”
On September 13, the Child Welfare Department placed the girl in an orphanage pending the outcome of the assault case — a development confirmed by the Social Development Principal Secretary, Limakatso Chisepo on Tuesday.
“Due to the circumstances of the case, we will not reveal the location of the orphanage to ensure she is safe. We are also going to wait for the outcome of the court case and assess her family before we can make a decision whether she should continue staying in the home or she moves back to her family,” Chisepo said.
A visit to the girl’s home by the Lesotho Times on Monday revealed a sad case of a family struggling to come to terms with what has become a scandal in the neighbourhood despite the case still being pending in the court.
The girl’s grandmother, in her 80s, could not hold back her tears while narrating she was away when her son was arrested for the alleged abuse.
“I heard about the case; he is my son and she is my granddaughter. What else can I say?” the woman sobbed.
The family of six, it emerged during Monday’s visit, sleeps in a single room while the other three rooms do not have a roof.
Only a torn curtain separates the kitchen where the family prepares its meals, and the small area which is the bedroom.
A neighbour claimed the family — which comprises the father, his two daughters aged 10 and 13, three sons who are older than the girls and the grandmother — is looking after the property on behalf of its owner.
“They were stranded and I helped them secure accommodation after the girl’s mother died last year,” said the neighbour.
However, the Samaritan said she soon realised that the father, who is a gardener, was struggling to look after the family which would reportedly go for days without a proper meal and appealed to other neighbours to also help.
“I heard of their story and decided to help from time to time. Other neighbours were also helping the family with food,” Morae said.
She said after becoming closer to the family, she realised there was something wrong with the youngest of the girls.
“She looked depressed and there was something strange about the way she walked. In July I decided to take her to the doctor who examined her and indicated someone was sexually assaulting her. She had also contracted a sexually transmitted infection.”
However, the girl did not disclose who the perpetrator was and Morae said she decided to involve the girl’s teacher.
“After a few weeks, she opened up to her teacher before we decided to report the case to the police in August. We could not involve the father because he was the suspect,” Morae said.
Another neighbour (we shall call ‘Maletsie Letsie to protect the identity of the girl) said she was relieved when the father was arrested but feared for the girl when he was granted bail.
“I understand the courts operate in a certain way but in this case, measures should have been taken to ensure the girl is moved to a safer place before the father was granted bail.
“What pains me the most is the fact that as the community that helped the poor girl, we have become enemies of this family. The girl is also likely to be disowned by her family,” Letsie said.
According to Letsie there is need for more investigations into the family to ensure the girl’s elder sister is safe.
“I strongly suspect there is more to this case than what we know,” she said.
However, in an interview with the National Coordinator of the Child and Gender Police Unit Inspector ‘Malebohang Nepo said this was one of the many shocking cases of sexual assault reported to the police countrywide every week.
“The biggest challenge and indeed, a scary situation is when the survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence report to us, only to see the suspects back home a few days later.
“Although this is the legal procedure, we need to put in place systems that would ensure survivors have an option to be in a protective shelter if they feel threatened or if they are children,” Inspector Nepo said.
Such protective facilities, Inspector Nepo added, should include a temporary shelter situated at police stations and in other secret locations.
“We have realised that without the confidence that survivors would be protected and that court cases handled speedily many survivors would be afraid to report any form of abuse.
“Communities too, would not want to be involved if they feel the law is not being decisive in dealing with crime.”
Inspector Nepo further said more resources should be channelled towards building the capacity of various stakeholders such as the police, department of social welfare and the judiciary to ensure an effective system that would provide optimal protection for
survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“At the moment, there is a disturbing trend of crimes against women and girls and we are deeply concerned about the level of sickness in our society. We need all the support we can get to create a law-abiding society that is respectful of its women and contributes to the protection of the girl-child.”
Communities, Inspector Nepo added, should remain vigilant and organised in their fight against crime despite the current inability to ensure absolute support for survivors.
“Communities should continue working with us in the same spirit of crime-prevention demonstrated by the residents of Khubetsoana. We all need to make an effort because today, it’s a girl or woman next door and tomorrow, it could be you or someone close to you,” Inspector Nepo said, further highlighting her office was widening the scope of its anti-crime campaigns to include a special focus on the protection of the girl-child.
“We expect this strategy is going to help make girls aware of the importance of reporting any form of indecent and sexual assaults.”
One of the challenges regarding sexual assaults, according to Inspector Nepo, is that perpetrators are usually people the girls know or are related to.
“It is even worse if it is violence in the home because girls can easily be conditioned into accepting it and keeping it a secret.
“This is why we want girls to understand that no one has a right over their bodies and that they have communities they can trust to confide in.”