The violent abuse of children is a crime no matter where or when it occurs. But in the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa, violence has a second, even darker dimension: Sexual assault is often the conduit for the spread of the HIV virus. Disturbingly, most of the abusers are people whose role is to protect and care for children – such as teachers and family members. Children who are the victims of sexual abuse risk being stigmatized if they speak out against their abusers.
Futhi (not her real name) is from Makanyane, Swaziland. She was 13 years old when her father began to rape her. He was HIV positive; his sexual abuse caused her to be infected with the virus. When she was diagnosed, she told other family members about the rapes. They did not believe her, and eventually forced her to leave home. She now lives in a halfway house.
This is her story as told to James Hall.
“My father died last year. I don’t know how he died, but he died in jail. I didn’t go to his funeral. The police would not let me. I was living at the halfway house. The police told my guardians it was too dangerous for me to go. They were afraid I could be poisoned.
“My family blames me for my father being in prison. They say it wasn’t him that raped me. They called me a liar.
“I was 13 when my father raped me. After it happened, I repeated grade six three times. ‘This thing’ that happened to me disturbed me very much. At school I could not concentrate. I am now attending a craft school where I am learning tailoring.
“Currently I’m stitching a baby duvet. But I will not be making one for my own baby because there will not be any. I don’t want a baby. I don’t want a husband. That’s the way I feel. I only want a boyfriend. I won’t have a baby with my boyfriend. I will use protection.
‘I did not know how I got there’
“I’m HIV positive and I’m afraid. I take 13 pills a day. My family knows I have HIV. I got it from my father. They still blame me. They don’t see that my HIV is my father’s HIV. They didn’t ask where or how I acquired it.
“I have a sister who is 12. I saw her last when I was still living at home. We lived in Makanyane, in two huts. My mother left home after my father married a second wife. I was in grade one when she left. I wanted to go with my mother but my father refused. From then on I saw her just once a year.
“I lived with my father and stepmother. But when she found out my father was HIV positive, she left. After she left, I was alone with my father. He worked as a security guard.
“He must have drugged me. I suspect he laced the tea he made for me. I woke up and found myself in his room. I did not know how I got there or what was going on. My father was an inyanga [herbalist] and an expert in umutsi [traditional medicine].
‘I have not seen her since that day’
“I was afraid to ask why I was there. If anything happened, I had no recollection of it. I just went back to my room.
“This happened several times. Whenever I left my father’s room, I usually felt sick. I would be hot and feverish. It must have been the effects of the herbs. When I told him I was unwell, he said I must go to hospital. But he wouldn’t take me. I think he was afraid. He simply gave me the money I needed.
“At the hospital the nurses said I was ‘sick from sleeping with men’. This is how I knew my father was raping me. They immediately reported the matter to the police. The police needed to talk to my stepmother because if I was HIV positive, she too was likely to be. She told them she had known she was HIV positive, and that is why she left my father.
“The police took me to the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA). Here the officers asked me what had happened. I told them the truth: I didn’t know, I couldn’t remember. They sent me to the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS) where the staff brought me to the halfway house. My stepmother left me there, promising to confront my father. I have not seen her since that day.
‘Some still blame me for my father’s death’
“I was a good student. But after the rape I became sickly. I started having fits. It was hard to study. I still liked school. But it was hard to concentrate. At school they thought the fits were due to epilepsy. I was put on drugs. But there was no improvement. Then they said it was a problem with my nerves. Now I’m on other pills.
“I didn’t go to court when my father’s case started. One day, the halfway house staff took me to SWAGAA to meet my uncle. They thought that was a safe place to see him.
“My uncle said my father had died and he wanted me to come home for the funeral. I wanted to go, but my guardians felt it wasn’t safe. No one else from my family has come to see me except for an old aunt. She was very happy to see me. She said the family was divided over who would take care of me. Some still blame me for my father’s death. But I think my father killed me.”
UNICEF and its partners are working to protect children like Futhi. At the Johannesburg consultation on the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, UNICEF and its partners are calling for an end to all forms of violence against children from all walks of life. During the three-day consultation, which runs 18 -20 July 2005, many issues will be addressed - including sexual and gender-based violence, corporal punishment, and the correlation between sexual abuse and the rise of the HIV/AIDS.