MASERU — A 13-year-old girl, Lineo (not her real name), is allegedly being abused by her aunt and a cousin who say she has a “devil in her head”.
The girl, who has since dropped out of school, also says her aunt forces her to look after her two-year-old cousin.
Lineo’s problems come a year after the death of her mother who died during labour.
The aunt, ’Maabiele Phatela, does not deny that she beats her but she insists that the “girl has to be beaten and kicked to knock Satan out of her head”.
Lineo’s father stays in Ha-Marakabei in the mountainous district of Thaba-Tseka.
She came to stay with Phatela’s family because her unemployed father could no longer provide for her.
When the Sunday Express visited her at Phatela’s home in Sekamaneng, 10 kilometres north of Maseru, she was dirty and her feet had cracks.
Lineo does not attend school despite the fact that primary education is free in Lesotho.
When Phatela took her from her father last year she promised to enrol her at a school.
She had only passed standard three.
“My mother died last year while delivering my younger sister,” Lineo said.
“My aunt took me saying I will attend school at Sekamaneng.”
But when she arrived in Sekamaneng, Lineo became a babysitter.
“I got out of school early this year because I had to babysit.
“My aunt beats me horribly,” said Lineo, showing a deep scar on her head and whip marks on her thighs.
“My aunt beats me with a stick or a high-heeled shoe.
“I no longer want to stay here, I want to go back home.”
A neighbour, speaking on condition of anonymity, says she often hears Lineo’s loud cry at night.
“She cries almost every night when her aunt gets home,” said the neighbour.
“She cleans the house, washes the nappies and provides the young boy with food.”
“The girl is abused. Just yesterday she was beaten by both her aunt and cousin.”
Phatela sometimes uses a whip, Lineo said.
Her cries of help during the beatings often invite neighbours to come and intervene on her behalf.
But despite confirming the girl’s misery the neighbours have refrained from reporting Phatela and her 15-year-old son to the authorities.
’Manapo Ntokoane (pictured), one of the neighbours, told the Sunday Express that the victim had reported her abuse to her.
“I saw the wound on her head last month,” Ntokoane said.
“She does not live a normal life. Apart from being physically abused the girl is also overworked.”
Another neighbour Itumeleng Tekane said Phatela told them that Lineo is her domestic worker and she pays her M50 a month.
The village headman, Sello Soejane, said he heard from the villagers that Phatela took her brother’s child and denies her right to education.
“Phatela has not informed me about the arrival of the girl so I have no right to intervene,’’ said Soejane.
“I can only intervene when I am told about the person’s arrival in my village.”
Phatela admits that she beats up Lineo because “the evil spirit in her head makes her do unusual things”.
She says two witches from the girl’s village take her from home in Sekamaneng through the spirit medium to Ha-Marakabei where they make her wash for them.
“She has told me that they have taught her to be a witch,” Phatela said.
Some of Phatela’s claims are bizarre.
“When she leaves here to Ha-Marakabei, through the spirits, a tokoloshi looking exactly like her is remaining behind to do things she was supposed to do.”
Phatela says Lineo told her that the two elderly women from Ha-Marakabei, whose names are known to Sunday Express, had put an evil spirit in the girl’s head.
But when pressed further Phatela admits that she has a short-temper. “When a child does something wrong I get offended and beat her up with anything I lay my hands on.”
She says that is exactly what she does to her own son.
Phatela said she was forced to stop Lineo from attending school after finding that the witches take her out of the class and replace her with the tikoloshe.
“The tokoloshi was not learning at school but I always knew that the girl would learn.”
She said tikoloshe has been making Lineo misbehave.
“It is because things are done by the tokoloshi not by her.”
Phatela, a devoted member of the International Pentecostal Church of Christ, says she takes Lineo to church every weekend to be prayed for.
She says sometimes she takes her to Jesu ke Karabo church.
Lineo’s former class teacher at Sekamaneng Primary School, ’Makhabile Molatseli, confirmed that Lineo attended school for only three weeks.
“She was often not at school,” said Molatseli.
“She told me that she sometimes babysits her cousin.
“She came to school wounded on the head.
“We asked her about those wounds, but we could not get information because she was secretive.”
A report by the Child and Gender Protection Unit indicates that there have been numerous cases of guardians taking advantage of children in their care by sexually, physically and emotionally abusing them.
Some of those children are exploited as domestic workers.
They are also deprived of their inheritance.
Some children are deprived of their right to education.
Statistics show that 30 percent of orphans are out of school. Many of them are girls who have dropped out to look after ailing family members.