On Saturday Gloria celebrated her 14th birthday
MAPUTO, Mozambique, 28 March 2011 – On Wednesday 16 March, a young girl lay peacefully at rest as relatives, neighbors and friends tearfully filed by her open casket. As they approached the girl’s heartbroken and grieving mother, who sat sobbing and with her head bowed at the far end of a room overflowing with people, they kissed her on the cheeks and offered her their heartfelt condolences. Most were crying themselves. The girl’s older brother was not, but his pain and anger were palpable.
The previous Saturday, Gloria had turned 14 years old. The mother had given her daughter Mt 200 (US$12) to buy herself a birthday gift, and she had bought a new pair of sandals. She was childishly excited about her shiny new sandals. Unfortunately, she never got to wear them, but the empty sandals are still there, a potent and painful symbol of the void in a mother’s heart.
On Sunday afternoon, Gloria’s mother had gone to visit a neighbor whose relative had died, but her daughter didn’t want to come, preferring instead to stay at home. She had always liked to be at home and did not socialize a whole lot. When the mother came back a couple of hours later, she found the house in a mess, as after a struggle, and Gloria was nowhere to be found. Her body was discovered the next day in a vacant house nearby. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered. Not more than a brief mention was made of her case in the country’s largest newspapers. She was inconspicuous when she was alive and not much attention was paid to her death.
“It hurts badly to think about it,” says Madalena, the girl’s mother, who raised Gloria and her brother on her own. Madalena can no longer sleep in her own house, both because of what happened there and because she doesn’t feel safe anymore.
“We don’t know who did this, and they are still out there,” the mother said quietly, with both frustration and fear in her voice. One suspect, a 35-year old man with two children of his own, has been apprehended by the police, but his role in what transpired is not clear.
“Gloria was raped and killed in her own home, in a place where she felt safe. Her fate is a powerful reminder of how vulnerable children are to sexual abuse and violence,” says Marie-Consolée Mukangendo, Communication for Development Specialist at UNICEF Mozambique.
Violence and sexual abuse against children in Mozambique is widespread, but remains hidden and often unrecognized. Perceived as taboo, the topic is seldom discussed or reported. Official statistics remain limited and probably do not capture the true scale of the problem. Often, the abused children and their families do not speak up, particularly when the crime has been committed by someone they know. Research shows that children are generally abused by people they know and trust and that they almost always suffer physical and psychological consequences of the abuse.
The case of Gloria underscores the need to enforce the laws, punish the criminals and create an environment where sexual abuse is rejected by society. It calls for a change in social norms that makes violence against children unacceptable and an environment where it is socially acceptable for the victim to speak up.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, other Ministries, civil society and faith-based organizations, UNICEF is supporting the development of a zero tolerance campaign against sexual abuse and violence. Leading Mozambican personalities and child rights advocates Mingas, Stewart Sukuma, Joaquim Chissano and Luisa Diogo will be spearheading the campaign, which asks people to open their eyes to the sexual abuse that is happening around them, in their own house, in their neighborhood, in communities or at school, and to reject it forcefully and unequivocally.
“The motto of the campaign – ‘não da para aceitar’ or ‘don’t accept it’ – emphasizes that we all have to play a part in preventing sexual abuse and violence against children. We all have a responsibility to open our eyes and reject it when we see it,” says Mukangendo.
Many police stations have ‘gabinetes de atendimento’ or special rooms where victims of sexual abuse can be taken care of in a safe place. The task of fighting sexual abuse and violence cannot be left to the police alone, however, but must involve communities, families and individuals. Children, especially girls and their caregivers, must be empowered to break the culture of silence and report sexual abuse to the police.
“Any person who is a victim of sexual abuse or knows of such abuse should report it to the police, and the police must prioritize such cases,” concludes Marie-Consolée Mukangendo.
For more information, please contact:
Arild Drivdal, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email: email@example.com