It was an emotional occasion when First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa met and interacted with an impreg_nated nine-year-old girl in Bulawayo last Saturday.
They met at a comfortable place where the girl is being taken care of under the close supervision of medical doctors and social workers.
Despite having a busy schedule, Amai Mnangagwa’s compassionate nature moved her to travel to the City of Kings where she was at pains to express disbelief over the case while interacting with caregivers and stakeholders.
When the First Lady set her sight on the girl she gave her a warm hug and for several moments there were no words spoken as the little girl and the mother of the nation embraced each other.
After that, the two became inseparable for the rest of the meeting, with the girl interacting openly with Amai Mnangagwa, refering to her as “Gogo”.
As a concerned mother and grandmother, Amai Mnangagwa listened attentively as she was given a full briefing by the custodians taking care of the girl including the biological mother, medical practitioners, psychologists and social welfare officials.
The girl is expected to deliver in a few weeks time through Caesarean birth as per recommendations of medical experts.
Amai Mnangagwa who is known for her philanthropic works nationwide which leaves no one and no place behind, carried with her an assortment of goodies, including groceries, toiletries, blankets and clothes to support the upkeep of the girl.
Also among the goodies were toys for the girl and a preparation kit for the unborn baby.
Speaking to medical staff and caregivers, the First Lady said it was unsettling and difficult that a child who still needs the love and care from her parents has been s_3xually violated and is preg_nant.
She could not hide her agony and shock as she tried to get the finer details of how the girl, who comes from Tsholotsho District in Matabeleland North Province, was s_3xually abused to the point of falling preg_nant.
“When I saw the child and hugged her, I had goosebumps, she rested her head on me and I felt as if she was wondering where I had come from, ndanzwa kunge ataura kuti mabva nekupi Amai, honai zvandiri, her hug spoke volumes tor me,” said an emotional Amai Mnangagwa.
Chief among Amai’s concerns was how the abuse was kept under wraps until the preg_nancy was discovered in August this year.
She urged fellow mothers, who are nurturing by nature, to always be alert to what is happening to their children and identify any red flags.
“I am here to see the girl, as a mother and grandmother I am here to see what we can do to protect our children in our homes.
“When I heard about the story of this girl, I did not believe it, looking at her age, she is still very young. Having come here, I have seen for myself that the case is real, the child is nine years old and eight months preg_nant,” she said sombrely.
Amai Mnangagwa said she was deeply saddened as a mother and expressed confidence that the law would take it course and justice would prevail.
“Our girl children’s rights are being violated like this before our eyes, and as mothers, we find ourselves heavy laden emotionally.”
The First Lady urged women to work vigorously in the fight to protect the girl child.
“I always tell women to be wary of their children’s behaviour and monitor closely what is going on in their children’s lives. These days, we cannot trust anyone, be it fathers, brothers and uncles.
“I encourage women to be cautious of what is happening with their girl children in the home. If are there any changes in your child that you may be seeing or hearing, this could be an indication that something is happening to the child,” she said.
Dr Mnangagwa said mothers must be vigilant and open to their children so that they create a conducive environment that will enable the children to freely open up on issues affecting them.
“Women and mothers, let us be cautious and observant, our girls can start men_struating early. If we look at this child, she started men_struating when she was about seven years old.
“Doctors say it is rare but it can happen in some cases such as this one, and one callous, evil person abused the child and got her preg_nant,” she said.
Amai Mnangagwa said early pu_berty must be a signal to parents to be extra vigilant in keeping a watchful eye on their daughters.
The First Lady also urged the community to be considerate when interacting with members of families where abuse has taken place and should treat it like it was a case within their own homes. She urged communities to come together to fight child abuse in all its evil forms.
She was further concerned as the mother of the nine-year-old is equally a young woman.
The First Lady said fellow women should commiserate with her over what has befallen her child in order to settle her mind as she is deeply troubled.
Dr Mnangagwa also expressed concern over the cultural challenges presented by such a case, especially for Chiefs and other traditional leaders, who are the custodians of cultural norms and values.
“When this baby is born from a child like this, how do we identify that baby in the family, especially if it is proved that the child was rap_ed by her father? Pahukama, how do we refer to that baby in the family set-up?” asked Dr Mnangagwa
Dr Harrison Rambanapasi the acting Clinical Director at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) gave an update on the child and expressed pleasure over the act of humility portrayed by the First Lady to come and see the child.
“I would like to thank Amai Mnangagwa for coming down to give her emotional support to this child who is in an unfortunate situation.
“We would like to thank her also for the material support that she has brought with her. We saw quite a lot of layettes that she had brought and food items,” he said.
Dr Rambanapasi said the girl was initially managed at Mpilo Central Hospitals and she was transferred to UBH at 32 weeks as they have a very good youth friendly unit.
“I would like to thank the specialists that have been looking after her and as of now everything is fine and the preg_nancy is now 37 weeks, there are no complications contrary to most situations where we have a little girl who is preg_nant.
“Even the baby growing inside her is doing well and growing and we are planning her delivery in the next few weeks,” he said.
Mrs Nombulelo Croco, a clinical psychologist who is managing the child on the psychological side shared her observations on the child with Amai. She said she was happy that when the girl met the First Lady, she opened up to her and started calling her Gogo Amai, telling her what she wants Amai to do for her. The girl also said she wants to go and stay with Gogo Amai.
“I have been looking into the psychological issues pertaining to the girl, and we had to bond first and create that relationship where she gets comfortable with me so that she was able to open up about her feelings and what was happening to her.
“This is what is called childhood trauma and trauma stays with you not for days or months but for life. When a child has been exposed to such a traumatic experience, they are more likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) where they have flashbacks of what happened to them in the past, flashbacks of that traumatic incident or nightmares related to that and even reminders of that incident becoming triggers,” she said.
Mrs Croco said such children are prone to depression, anxiety and also become suicidal but at the same time, she said intervening at this point is helpful in trying to prevent mental health problems in the future.
“It is not trauma only to the individual but something that affects the family as a whole as how people will react and how they will treat each other from here on. Issues of trust have also been affected; the community as well is affected,” she said.
Mrs Croco warned parents and guardians over perpetrators of s_3xual violence saying they are usually from within family circles.
“My advice to mothers and fathers is that s_3xual assault normally happens within the family, it is the people that are close to that child that normally perpetrate these kinds of acts.
“It is not someone who is from faraway, but usually someone that the child trusts. So, they must look out for their children and create that relationship that allows them to come to you and open up to you,” she said.
Mrs Croco urged parents to look out for signs in behavioural changes, maybe if the child is becoming more “stubborn” yet previously they were good children and if they are tearful or suddenly start bed wetting.
Chief Gampu of Tsholotsho South also had a chance to interact with Amai Mnangagwa and thanked her for visiting the child. He said the case is unusual with traditional leaders hamstrung on how to handle the matter.
“This matter happened in my jurisdiction, and I investigated the matter too with the family and they explained to me what they knew. As a community leader and as the chief, I was not expecting such a thing to happen, we cannot accept such an incident, it is unheard of in our African culture.
“All other chiefs are equally stunned in the area and beyond. Even Biblically, it is condemned,” he said.
Chief Gampu called for joint stakeholder engagement to find a solution to the occurrence and to also protect further women and girls, calling on parents and communities to open up about abuse.