26 February 2013

Zambia: Confronting GBV in Communities

IN Kamutola Village, a girl child Bupe Chileshe (not real name) cries for help in the middle of the night, and no one comes to her aid. A relative that she has grown up with, whom she trusts and calls uncle Mutale is sexually abusing her once again.

This has been going on for the past three years. She is only eight years old. Her mother has once again gone to the city to sell their produce in order to make ends meet.

Her father died when she was only two years old from the deadly epidemic called AIDS, which the villagers call "Death Call". Little do they know that this disease has now got anti retroviral drugs (ARV's) that can prolong someone's life.

No medical personnel have been there to educate them on the disease and nothing but death seems to be the solution. The villagers mix a portion that helps ease the patient's pain. They believe it is a "curse" from their ancestors because of failure to carry out rituals and other customs as is supposed to be case.

Mutale is her late father's young brother who had to marry her mother (Belita) as is the custom called "Ukupyanika". In their culture, when someone dies they believe that a relative should take the place of the deceased and carry on with his duties, thus Mutale became Belita's husband.

Mutale is 25-years-old and has had no education at all. He was taught to fish (his family being that of fishermen) from a very young age. He has had several sexual partners from within his village and beyond.

He often gets these women from the drinking places that he frequents in his village and beyond. The women are attracted to him because he is good looking and has money from his fishing business. He promises them marriage and they quickly give in, little do they know that he is HIV positive just as he himself is unaware. He may have contracted HIV from Belita or his various lovers.

Bupe has a young brother (Mulusa) who was born with HIV, and is now seven years old and often sick. Belita travels several miles with Mulusa whenever he falls ill only to be given herbs by the witch doctor, the village does not have a health facility.

Kamutola Village has many rivers and lakes and its people live around these water bodies and so often times suffer from malaria and other water borne diseases which lead to death in often times.

Bupe has been told by Mutale never to tell anyone about what he does to her, telling her that she is very "special" to him and other people will be jealous of her if they knew what goes on, hence her quietness concerning the matter.

Bupe thinks she is indeed special and shys away from her friends and spends most of her time alone. As she does not attend school, she cannot read or write and speaks only the native language.

Her mother's sister (Monica) came to visit them from the city and has little education having gone up to grade nine, she can read and write.

She works in a shop in the city as a shop assistant.

As they were sitting in the little living room one night, there was a programme on the radio about gender-based violence GBV). As the programme was in English only Monica was able to understand what was being said. Everyone in the room was quiet as they waited for her to translate what was being discussed.

As the programme came to a break, she started her translation. As Monica translated, Bupe realised that what Mutale had been doing to her was wrong. As the translation went on Mutale could not sit still anymore as guilt engulfed him, he quickly left the house. Belita and the others were listening attentively to Monica that they did not notice Mutale leave.

As the programme continued it went on to sensitise people about HIV and AIDS, explaining how it starts and how to go for VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing), Belita suddenly started crying, realising what she had been going through.

She asked Monica if there was a VCT centre where she lived. Monica explained that every district had health centres or hospitals which offered VCT services. They agreed to go to the district hospital the following day oblivious to Bupe's situation.

The following day, Monica, Belita and Mulusa set off for the district hospital, not knowing that Bupe was a victim of GBV and likely to be HIV positive as well. As they left Bupe could not help it anymore and started crying uncontrollably but no one was there to help or rather comfort her.

At that point, Mutale walked into the house realised what he had done but could not say anything to her. After three days the trio returned from the district hospital and Belita spoke to Mutale at length about her results and Mulusa encouraged him to go for VCT at which he refused and accused her for ending his life.

Mutale later on went to his relatives and told them that Belita had infected her husband (his late brother) and himself respectively. The whole village came to know of the story and chased Belita and her children.

Belita went to live with her sister, Monica in the city. After a couple of weeks in the City, Belita decided to go for VCT again to make sure of her status and Mulusa's. The results for both of them were the same.

Belita and Mulusa started their treatment and were put on ARV'S. As Belita's health began to improve she looked for a job at a private clinic as a cleaner. She became good friends with the nurses and doctors at the clinic and because of her disease she started learning how to take care of herself and Mulusa.

It was at this point that one of the nurses asked her about Bupe. She had noticed how withdrawn she was, even though she had started going to school. The nurse then asked Belita if she could bring Bupe in for a medical assessment, she agreed.

The nurse asked Bupe several questions of which she could not respond; she called Belita in to help. As they did an examination of her lower body, the nurse noticed something unusual for an eight year old and Bupe kept on avoiding being touched and screamed in pain.

They called in one of the doctors to do a thorough examination, and he discovered that Bupe had been sexually abused, an HIV test was done and it was positive.

Belita was informed of the situation and she could not understand how this had happened. Bupe was asked to reveal who had abused her and she refused to disclos.

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