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Sodomy trauma haunts parents

Ntsebeng Motsoeli and ‘Mantoetse Maama

MASERU — The tranquil of the village, somewhere in Maseru, is interrupted by the noise from hordes of children arriving home from school on this hot Tuesday afternoon.

Sixty-five-year-old ’Malerato* is keenly scanning the group to see if one of the boys in the group is her grandson.

Cooking papa and moroho outside her iron sheet shack for lunch, simultaneously keeping an eye on two other grandchildren who are yet to go to school, ’Malerato gets worried sick when she realises none among the group is her 10-year-old grandson.

She has started worrying much about the boy’s safety after he was sodomised by an older schoolmate about three weeks back.

“I just want to know he is alright,” she says, still meticulously scanning the groups of children.

’Malerato is just one of dozens of Abia community members who no longer feel their children are safe at school since news of a sodomy ring involving at least 20 children at the local primary school broke out.

Here, parents and guardians are living on the edge, forever fearful of their children’s fate.

An institution that they expected to provide sanctuary and education has turned into a horror place.

’Malerato is yet to come to terms with the harrowing reality since the school principal told her of the sodomy ring that included her grandson.

The ring was busted when one of the victims, a physically challenged boy, reported to a school teacher how a senior schoolmate, a 14-year-old, had sexually abused him.

That opened a can worms.

More reports came in from other victims. Later about 10 boys reported being sexually assaulted by the same boy, with the circle growing to over 20.

“The boy who raped my grandson was the last person I ever feared could harm my boy,” says ’Malerato.

She says her grandson has changed ever since.

“He was so embarrassed when he told me how the boy raped him and other boys one day while they had taken some livestock to graze outside the village.

“He said they were taking a nap when the culprit started raping another boy. They tried to talk to him out of the act but he threatened to beat them. He bullied them and they could not do anything because he is older and they are scared of him. Soon, the abusive boy was taking turns to sodomise our children,” ’Malerato said, her shaky voice betraying the anger building inside her.

“He was so uncomfortable telling me that he had also become a victim. That reaction touched me because he is normally an open and straightforward boy.”

The United Nations children’s arm, Unicef, says a quarter of Lesotho children are orphans staying with grandparents or other guardians.

These children, according to Unicef, are most vulnerable to abuse.

“It is important to state that the huge number of orphaned and vulnerable children in Lesotho — currently one in four children are orphaned — continues to make many minors vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” according to Unicef.

But, without adequate oversight by authorities, even those staying with their own parents appear susceptible to abuse, judging by the recent case.

Three yards away from ’Malerato’s compound, is a man who shares similar grief.

Tšeliso’s* 12-year-old son is one of the boys caught up in the sodomy ring. He has been filled with anger since learning of the incident.

“I cannot believe that my son has been hurt right under my nose. I do not want to see the boy who has done this. I hate him for abusing my son. He has stripped my son of his pride. It is as good as killing him,” Tšeliso, barking with rage tells the Sunday Express.

His son was sodomised while tending to cattle at the grazing lands by the same 14-year-old ring leader.

Tšeliso* says his son has never been the same since then.

“He does not play with the other children the way he used to. He even avoids us in the house. He gets emotional every day when he has to go to school because he could meet the boy who harassed him. He feels humiliated,” he said.

Unicef says sexual assault is one of the most common forms of abuse Lesotho children suffer.

The organisation says it is working with the government to curb such cases.

But, for ’Malerato and members of her community who have witnessed the harsh cruelty of sexual abuse first hand, more supervision and education is needed at community level.

While relived that tests showed that her grandson had not contracted any serious medical condition as a result, ’Malerato wakes up to the reality that her grandson will forever live with the trauma of the sodomy.

“There should be systems in place to make sure this doesn’t happen in the first place. They are just children and they deserve protection,” she says, looking up the sky, as if asking for divine intervention.

?Names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the children.

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