Zimbabwe: 'Incest, a Scourge in Our Midst'

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28 January 2020

For 16-year-old Thelma Gotora (not her real name), all her self-esteem is gone following a heartbreaking childhood in which she was twice sexually molested by very close relatives.

Seeing them everyday sends shivers down her spine as she cant get over the horrendous experience of them forcing themselves on her while screamed for help.

What pains Thelma and her mother Tarisai is the family conspiracy and determination to protect the culprits who to this brag about their evil actions against an innocent child.

"I was only 12 when my father's brother took advantage of me and raped me, three years later I suffered the same at the hands of my aunt's son. I reported both issues to my parents. In the first incident a report was filed to the police but the case was withdrawn after my granny threatened to disown my parents, my uncle fled to South Africa and rarely visits the country," narrated Thelma.

Tarisai could only shed tears as her daughter narrates her ordeal at the hands of her cruel relatives. After breaking down twice, she gathers the courage to also explain how she feels about her daughter's plight and how the family is not keen on justice.

"Twice my daughter was raped but because of my mother in law, both cases were never probed. My husband was threatened by family members thereby hampering all efforts to have the two arrested. The first culprit fled to South Africa and when he visits the country I am never told until he goes back.

"As for the cousin he is in the country but there was nothing to do as my husband says it's in the best interest of protecting the family. For the love of my marriage and daughter I am left with no choice but to comply with what my husband says. The truth of the matter is I am in pain with the issues" said a sobbing Tarisai.

"It is by the grace of God that Thelma did not get pregnant or contract any disease. Though self-confidence seems a challenge, she is traumatised hopefully justice will prevail" she added.

Incest which is regarded as a serious taboo in almost every society, is a sexual activity between two people who are considered, for moral and genetic reasons, too closely related to have such a relationship.

Minors and teenage girls suffer at the hands of close relatives and are threatened with death if they divulge the abuses. Many molested children suffer silently because of fear.

Most abusers use deceitful methods such as presents and privileges to advance their interests. They later coerce the victim to keep the relationship secret.

In some instances these heinous acts have been attributed to ritual activities something that was confirmed by Remigio Siakobvu a Chinhoyi based traditional healer.

"Incest by all standards is a taboo but there are some people who are doing it for the sake of preserving certain rituals. They are told that for you to have money and wealthy you have to be sexually active with your daughter or sister. People no longer have respect for family relationships as they are looking for riches.

"Genuine herbalists spend their time administering plants [with] medicinal ingredients to the sick while fake witch-doctors concentrate on lying to the people about how to get rich quick. Others are involved in soothsaying. The only magic to get rich is hard work." said Siakobvu.

Dr Ruvimbo Musindo, a psychologist, attributed the rising cases of incest on what she says skewed relationships and substance abuse.

"Couples are experiencing many problems within the marriage institution, many do not have anyone to turn to. They vent their anxiety on minors, others are abusing drugs leading to abuse of minors and girls" said Dr Musindo

She names another form of incest as emotional incest.

"In this abuse, a parent relates to a child as a substitute for an adult partner and it starts when a person has affection for a family member as substitute for a partner" she said

The doctor says incest is psychologically harmful to the woman in later life, frequently leading to feelings of low self-esteem, unhealthy sexual activity, and contempt for other women and other emotional problems.

The symptoms of emotional incest include 'specialness': believing you are somehow special, and identity loss where the victim loses access to human qualities, resources and emotions.

The heinous act continues to devour families but will be kept a secret under the banner of 'protecting the family'. Experts have expressed concerns that these occurrences could lead to an unhealthy and weak society if proactive measures were not taken to stop them.

At law it is a criminal offence having sexual intercourse within the prohibited degree of relationship as defined in Section 75 (2) (c) of the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23.

Statistics from the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency reveal that in the 2018 fourth quarter 7 738 people were raped whilst statistics released in March indicated that 1 261 cases were recorded in January and February alone.

A large number of the rape cases involve minors and are falling victims at the hands of relatives.

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