TABBIE (19) from a rural village in Mutasa, Manicaland Province, constantly breaks down as she narrates her story.
Born from a mother who has a hearing impairment, Tabbie says she has no fond memories of her father and does not even know him because she is a product of rape.
THE CENTRE SPREAD
BY ROPAFADZO MAPIMHIDZE
And as if that is not enough, her three-year-old sister is also a product of rape, after a neighbour raped her mother about four years ago.
“I do not know how the second rape happened, but the case did not see the light of day as village authorities took sides with the rapist and hence the matter did not reach the courts. This is even though an agreement was reached to ensure that my sister is looked after by the rapist father who has, however, reneged on the promise,” Tabbie says with a forlorn look on her face.
“My little sister resembles her rapist father and it is unfortunate that while everyone in the village knows that he is the man responsible, nothing has been done to ensure that she is well catered for,” Tabbie says with tears flowing down her cheeks.
Listen to Tabbie here:
She is at pain to explain how difficult it has been growing up not knowing who her father is.
“I went to school in Chipinge up to Form 1 when my aunt said she no longer had the money for me to continue with my education. I envied those that had fathers who would pay their school fees. I then moved to Harare to live with yet another aunt before I came here to work as a domestic worker,” she says.
Her employer, Mandiudza Chakuparira, phoned this writer after realising that this young woman had serious psychological problems that required professional counselling.
The employer said it was during an interview for the job that she divulged all this information.
“I was so saddened and felt helpless. This young woman is a hardworking teenager who stated during the interview that she wants to improve the life of her mother and little sister,” Chakuparira said.
Tabbie says she has great passion for dressmaking and fashion designing, and says her dream is to enrol with a dressmaking school so that she can start sewing clothes.
“My mother was raped when she and her family were living in the Odzi farming area by a stranger who has not been identified because my mother can neither hear nor talk and, therefore, uses sign language to communicate.
“She was 19 years old when this happened. I was raised by my grandmother and my mother’s elder sister who told me that no one knew who raped my mother and that is something that really pains me,” Tabbie said.
Chakuparira, who is a pensioner, says she wished someone would assist this young woman to further her studies.
“Although she is over 18, I still feel that she is too young to work as a domestic worker because her age mates are either in high school or university. I am willing to look after her while she goes to a college to pursue her passion to design and sew clothes,” she said.
Sexual abuse such as rape and defilement are some of the common cases women with a hearing impairment experience.
This is because there is a false belief among men in Zimbabwe that having sex with disabled women can cure them from diseases such as HIV and Aids, says research and advocacy officer with the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (Nascoh) Tsarai Mungoni.
Mungoni says this leads men living with HIV and Aids to have relationships with such women either by consent or force with the hope of getting cured.
“The myth is compounded by the belief that disabled women are virgins or asexual and as a result, this puts women with disabilities at high risk of being infected with HIV and Aids and other sexually transmitted infections,” Mungoni says.
“Women in such situations are a major challenge which is further compounded by courts which are not disability-friendly. For example, evidence by people with hearing impairment cannot be understood by judicial personnel because there are no sign language interpreters,” he adds.
There is, however, a much wider problem in as far as sign writing is concerned because most of these people have never been to school and hence use self-taught sign language which is very limited in vocabulary signals.
“There is a lack of policy on disability inclusion within our court system and this also spreads to other public offices,” Mungoni laments.
“The police face a plethora of challenges when trying to extract evidence from raped women with hearing impairments and hence more often than not, these cases go unreported,” he said.
Mungoni said the attitude of police towards addressing these cases are also a major impediment because they think that “no normal” person can rape a woman with a disability, especially those that have visual and hearing impairments.
Paradoxically, while women and girls with disabilities are highly vulnerable to sexually-oriented forms of violence and society is aware of the happenings, there is minimal legal redress provided to bring the perpetrators to book.
When a woman or girl with disabilities is abused, family can shield the person and if the person is not related, he is often taken to local traditional leaders or the police who are in most instances reluctant to take action.
They always prefer a conciliatory approach. The police cannot defend the statement given.
The example cited in this story of the woman who was raped twice and brought forth two daughters from rape incidents, is a clear example of justice denied especially in the second rape case.
Mungoni notes that there are over two million people with disabilities in Zimbabwe with the majority living in the rural areas.
These, he says, are totally excluded from community activity and remain invisible.
In urban areas, Mungoni also notes, people living in low-density or affluent areas tend to hide such people away in bedrooms.
Mungoni says that there is need to recommend disability focal persons at each and every government office from village level up to national level to ensure that the needs of these “forgotten people” are adequately met.
This is also in line with the new Constitution of Zimbabwe which protects the rights of all human beings.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities critically calls for total inclusion of persons with disabilities in all life’s spheres, that is at administrative, political and at societal levels.
“Zimbabwe is the pioneer of enacting disability legislation in Africa like the Disability Act of 1992. But Zimbabwe has been leapfrogged by a number of African countries that have adopted and adapted Zimbabwe’s Disability Act.
“For example, South Africa has comprehensive disability laws and once appointed a minister with a disability. Uganda, Namibia and Mozambique are also shining examples of countries that have disability inclusions,” Mungoni said.
Mungoni says, sadly, Zimbabwe does not have a disability policy from which to derive a national plan of action.
“If at all issues of disability are addressed, in most cases, it is not deliberate. . . but accidental. While government can be commended for a well-thought-out policy to combat poaching for example, the same has not been done for persons with disabilities who continue to wallow, if not sink deeper into grinding poverty, particularly at this time when the economy is in doldrums.
“Lack of a comprehensive disability response, legal and policy infrastructure if unaddressed sooner than later will continue to relegate these people to the fringes of society,” the Nascoh official says.
He also urges media houses to include issues of disabilities in their editorial policies because most editors regard these people as less important, making it difficult to put disability related issues on the national agenda.
But the question remaining, however, is what is being done for children born from rape cases involving disabled mothers, particularly the deaf and dumb?
What safety net is available to ensure that these children go to primary school, university or other tertiary institutions?
“Given centrality of the media in agenda-setting, there is need to realign editorial policies in the spirit of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability,” Mungoni says.
As Tabbie goes about doing her domestic chores, one can feel how tortured her soul is.
She constantly smiles at the visitors in the lounge, but distress and pain are clearly scribbled on her face.
A Harare-based gender activist, in an interview, says that she has spent a lot of time with mothers that gave birth to children who are products of rape and watched how traumatised they are.
“I have seen them wrestle with their hate and anger, trying not to project that onto people or children they bear.
“There are many children whose birth is the result of a rape. But that does not make them worthless people . . . But it would help if they could undergo some counselling,” she says.