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Comoros: Girl defies stigma of rape to pursue dream of being a lawyer (UNFPA)

Mariama is raising a child while still a child as a result of her rape. But the support she receives from the Listening and Protection Service for Children and Women Victims of Violence helps her cope with the trauma. 

One day after school, Mariama was invited over to the home of a man who was well-known in the neighbourhood. She recalls, “I followed him into his house. I did not know that he was going to rape me.” 

Her eyes tear up as she describes the ordeal that left her pregnant. She adds, “I have a daughter who is one-and-a-half years old now.”

The rape was another of life’s blows for Mariama, who never knew her father and was orphaned at the tender age of six when her mother died. Originally from Madagascar, she and her younger siblings moved in with their aunt in Moroni, the capital city of Comoros.

Since the ordeal, Mariama has had to face her rapist on the streets of Moroni, as he was imprisoned but released after serving only one year behind bars. 

Mariama says that getting pregnant after being raped was traumatic. But she has braved her ordeal thanks in part to the support of the Listening and Protection Service for Children and Women Victims of Violence.

She says, “My aunt heard about the centre from a friend and brought me here.” Mariama received medical and legal support, and the perpetrator was imprisoned for his crime. But his release left the young woman fearful.

She says, “I still see him in our neighbourhood, but I always stay away or change my road. If he tries to talk to me, I will not answer.” 

Mariama now focuses on her education. She hopes to become a lawyer, to be able to defend girls who experience similar abuse, including her own daughter. She says, “I want her to be able to better defend herself, and other young girls who may suffer any form of abuse.”

Predominantly Muslim, Comoros consists of four small islands and has a population of about three-quarters of a million people. It has strong cultural, religious, and customary practices—like child marriage and inheritance rights—that negatively affect women and girls, and promote gender-based violence.

Women who experience such practices and other forms of violence regularly seek support from the Listening and Protection Service for Children and Women Victims of Violence. Said Ahamed Said works with the Comoros Ministry of Health. He says: “The maltreatment of women and girls is quite frequent. For instance, in 2021, we received 173 cases of sexual violence against women and girls, of whom 162 were girls under the age of 17.” 

But this may only be the tip of the iceberg, as many women face economic violence because of men not paying family allowances after divorce. Mr. Said says this is quite common.

Although the centre has been raising awareness, many women who experience beatings, discrimination, and rape within the family do not report these cases for fear of becoming an outcast, or being unable to support themselves financially.

Mr. Said explains: “It is considered taboo for a woman to report violence. Even if she is beaten, as long as she still shares the home with the man, she will hardly come forth. These women do not have a source of revenue and there are no social services in the country to manage such cases, or where these women can run to for shelter. That is why we are hoping that donors can support the setting up of a space to shelter these women beyond the counsel we give.”

According to a 2012 survey, 17 per cent of women in the Comoros have experienced at least one incident of violence since the age of 15.

Mr. Said says: “Our objective is sensitizing the population on the different forms of violence. And after 17 years of this centre’s existence, it is encouraging to see that people are becoming more conscious now and they can denounce violence, compared to how things were before.” 

This story is adapted from an article written by UNFPA (The United Nations Population Fund) and published on their website, titled “Girl defies stigma of rape and resulting motherhood to pursue her dream of being a lawyer,” and also uses material from an article written by the United Nations Office in Geneva and published on Africa Newsroom, titled “Delivering justice for abused child brides in The Comoros.” To read the full stories, go to: https://esaro.unfpa.org/en/news/girl-defies-stigma-rape-and-resulting-motherhood-pursue-her-dream-being-lawyer [1] and https://www.africa-newsroom.com/press/delivering-justice-for-abused-child-brides-in-the-comoros?lang=en [2]

Photo: Mariama receiving support from the Listening and Protection Service for Children and Women Victims of Violence helps her cope with the trauma. Credit: UNFPA Comoros.