A FOSTER parent of the preg_nant nine-year-old girl from Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North province, has said the young expectant mother is a free-spirited child who regularly opens up about her ordeal despite the fact that she does not know that she is preg_nant.
The nine-year-old who would also play children’s games with village agemates despite being heavily preg_nant, was initially taken under the care of a foster mother in Tsholotsho in August when the issue was brought to light. While in the custody of the caregiver with 12 years experience, the nine-year-old would often open up about the se_xual abuse, it has emerged.
“She came in with the Social Welfare Department in August. In the first days she would cry a lot, maybe because of being away from home but I would comfort her. She loved me a lot and we developed a strong bond that even when she was being picked up for medical check-ups, she would cry for me to go with her.
If I wanted to leave the house, I had to explain to her that I was leaving and would return later that day or after a few days because she did not want me to be out of her sight,” said the foster parent.
Following the bond that had been created, the child began to open up to the foster parent.
“She would ask me when the ‘thing’ in her stomach would get out and how the doctors will do it. I would explain that the ‘thing’ will be removed eventually.
This is because she did not know what was inside of her, she knows she has a disease that has affected her stomach and not that she is preg_nant. When we stayed with her, she was well behaved and very open.
If she wanted something she would ask me for it, or if she wanted to cook a specific meal, she would tell me that ‘today I want mealie-meal porridge or popcorn’ and I allowed her to cook, she had those days when she wanted to cook for herself,” said the foster parent.
However, the foster mother said the preg_nant nine-year-old said the se_xual abuse was done only at night. It is alleged that the girl was told by her father that a goblin was going to come and “insert something in her private parts” at night and this happened on several occasions. Furthermore, she shared a bedroom with her parents.
“According to what she says, this goblin would come at night, abuse her and the father would tell her that the goblin has left through the window.
She was however, confused as to how the goblin would come into the house at night as the mother would close all windows in the evening. After the se_xual acts on her by the alleged “goblin”, the father would put the light on and close the window which would miraculously be open despite the mother having closed it earlier.
She said to me “into leyi iyangimangalisa, umama uyavala iwindi elivalela ngaphakathi kodwa ukuthi into leyi ibivula njani ibisingena, angikwazi, kodwa ubaba nguye owaye vala iwindi nxa sekuqedile” (the whole thing confuses me because my mother would close the window at night from inside, but I don’t know how this thing (goblin) would open and come in. But my father would then close the window after it has finished).
She then said this goblin would only enter when the father was home. Even if he would come home late it would only show up when he is home, but when he is away the goblin would not come.
“She said to me she would cry after the se_xual violation and the father would console her and then put on the light. She also mentioned that if the light was on, the goblin never appeared but it showed up in the cover of darkness.
The goblin is said to have stopped violating her when her aunts’ children visited as she was now sleeping in the same room with her cousins,” said the foster parent.
She however, does not know when exactly the abuse stopped, but said she stopped sharing the bedroom with her parents when her cousins visited. The child is alleged to have said on one occasion, the mother refused to open the door for her father at night and he broke in through the window.
However, she was “concerned” that since the broken window was not repaired by the time she left to the foster home, the goblin was going to enter at will.
“She really did not want the goblin to enter their home via that broken window and was very concerned,” she added.
The father of the child was arrested on 29 August after it was discovered in hospital that the child was preg_nant and is assisting police with investigations. After the nine-year-old was taken away to a different safe house outside Tsholotsho three weeks ago, the foster parent maintained contact via the authorities to find out how she was coping.
“I spoke to them and they told me that she was crying, demanding that she goes back to her aunt in Tsholotsho, she wanted to come back to me. So, I put an audio message for her and she responded saying I must come and visit her as she was missing me. But now it’s my hope that she has adjusted to the new place where she is,” said the foster parent.
The foster mother said she was pained by the incident and would equally cry as she was seeing the dire situation the child was in. Health officials said the girl was over eight months preg_nant and would deliver at any time, using a Caesarean operation, as she is still too young to undergo a normal delivery. She is under the care of United Bulawayo Hospitals and is staying at a safe house in the city.
The probation officer from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare in the Department of Social Development in Tsholotsho District, Mr Brighton Ndebele, who has been handling the case since the preg_nancy was discovered, said it was agreed among social welfare officials and the family that the expectant mother will not keep the baby with her, but will be allowed to recuperate and be shown the baby “at an appropriate time”.
“The reasons are she is a child that will be traumatized by child birth and allowing her to take up the role of a mother and miss school will traumatise her further and make her lose confidence in front of her peers that she is a mother at nine years. That may be a challenge to her so we are avoiding that.
“If we manage to maintain that position for a while, that she does not know that she had a baby, then we will then find a way to explain to her later.
“That is the position we took during our meeting but if other suggestions come up, we will adjust,” said Mr Ndebele.
He also gave a narration of how the issue came to light.
“On 27 April 2021 the family visited the hospital in Tsholotsho after being referred by their local clinic to share their concerns on the men_struating minor and were told it was possible that she had early puberty. In February 2022, the men_struation stopped and they assumed the matter had been solved.
Around June/July they discovered her stomach was swelling. On 29 August 2022 they presented again to the hospital with the child and a bulging stomach which turned out to be a pregnancy. We immediately took the child to a place of safety under a trained foster parent. The 29-year-old father was also arrested on the same day,” he said.
The child’s mother revealed that the girl started her menstrual cycle aged seven, which prompted them to visit the local clinic and a prophet to “stop the anomaly”. When the pregnancy was discovered, it was considered late and dangerous to the girl to perform an abortion, health officials said.
“It was decided that the child was to remain in a place of safety with the hope that she would disclose who had violated her, and also that the father remains in Tsholotsho Prison until investigations are over and further tests are done on the baby. We also proceeded with the Victim Friendly Unit in the village for more investigations and we even reached the prophet who the family had consulted over the men_struating child. We also went to the school for investigations,” said Mr Ndebele.
— Sunday News