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Protecting girls to overcome sexual violence: A girl’s determination in face of adversity

Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 08:41

Thirteen-year-old Tapiwa (not real name) from Manicaland Province is a survivor of sexual violence who is currently being assisted at an ActionAid supported Safe House in partnership with the Family Aids Caring Trust (FACT). Despite a harrowing violation, she is determined to continue with life and build on her grades from primary school.

 I want to go to school to earn a living.  I want to find my sisters and brothers who I last saw in 2015 and look after them as they are still very young, with the oldest being 19, said the defiant girl. No one from Tapiwa’s family of 10 children went to secondary school.

Tapiwa is an orphan, who in 2017 came out with 7 units, an excellent performance at Grade 7 despite struggling to pay her school fees. She was the highest pupil at her school and wants to be a nurse given an opportunity to go to school. Both her parents are deceased. She has not been going to school since she finished Grade 7. 

When my grandmother died, payment of my school fees from the government Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) was stopped. My fees were paid by BEAM since I started school. A head at my school took over the payment of my fees which saw me completing my Grade 7. However, I could not continue to form 1 in 2018 as there was no one to pay my fees. I have been applying to various secondary schools in my community, however with hopes of finding someone to pay for my school fees, said Tapiwa who is determined to succeed in life despite her situation.

Tapiwa had gone to visit her sister somewhere near her home when she was raped. It turned out later that the man who sexually violated her was her sister’s tenant who sneaked into her room to rape her while she was sleeping. Prior to visiting her sister Tapiwa was staying with her uncle and wife.

The ambitious girl shocked her family members when she refused to marry her attacker.  “The man, who raped me and infected me with a sexually transmitted disease tried to negotiate with my sister to marry me. I refused because I want to go to school, “said the strongminded girl.  This is often the fate of many girls in the same position. They find themselves marrying at young ages as early as 11 in forced marriages because of various circumstances ranging from cultural and religious practices, poverty and sexual assaults.

The man who sexually assaulted her is currently under arrest while Tapiwa is protected in the Safe House. The support to the Safe House is part of a wider ActionAid programme called Empowering Girls to Overcome Barriers to Education.  The Safe House, which is housing about 20 children who have faced various forms of violence has been supported with food and toiletries. ActionAid in partnership with FACT intends to support the Safe House with livelihoods projects such as poultry to ensure that the assistance is more sustainable than providing food handouts.

 The Department of Social Welfare has made some temporary arrangements for Tapiwa to be in school from September to December 2018 while the Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme (DOMCCP), working in partnership with ActionAid on the Empowering Girls to Overcome Barriers to Education, will take up Tapiwa’s school fees payment for secondary education in 2019.

A Department of Social Welfare official said: Tapiwa’ s case is an unfortunate one. We are assisting her with the treatment of the STI.  I am however happy to say that due to the awareness created by the Empowering Girls to Overcome Barriers to Education Programme in the communities ActionAid is working in, more similar cases are being reported. We are actually overwhelmed with so many cases involving minors in our community which over the years were being swept under the carpet.

The Empowering Girls to Overcome Barriers to Education Programme is reaching 3000 girls in primary and secondary schools as well as those out of school in form of school fees payment, livelihood programmes for school fees payment, child rights trainings and support to Safe Houses in the targeted ActionAid operational areas.