Rescued – The Children Who Got Their Childhood Back
by Hayley Pearson
Across the world, The Salvation Army is working to deal with the causes and consequences of human trafficking. In Mchinji, Malawi, it runs a residential rehabilitation centre for up to 20 children who have been rescued and protected from trafficking. The children receive clothes and food, and study at the local school. The centre also provides counselling for children and raises awareness of human trafficking and child labour through an education programme in communities. Hayley Pearson spoke to some of the residents and shares their stories here:
Violet, 12, has been living at the centre for seven months
I USED to live in a village near Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. I lived with my mum, dad, brothers and sisters. But then my father died and my mum told me she was going to town in search of a job. She left us behind in the village.
Later she came back to fetch me and one of my younger sisters. I didn’t know it at the time but she’d got a job in a bar and was working in the sex trade.
|Matron Kenrinie with children at the centre|
|Girls at the centre play a simple game|
|Residents from the centre tend the kitchen garden|
|Residents are taught how to care for the centre’s garden|
|Some of the vegetables grown by the children in the centre’s garden|
|Music and dancing are good ways for the children to have fun|
|The children enjoy dancing|
When we moved I stopped going to school. My mum would go away to work and I would stay behind. Sometimes she would take my younger sister with her; other times she would leave her with me and I would have to take care of her.
It was hard. I faced many difficulties. When my mum was going away, I’d ask her to leave me some food, but she didn’t. She’d tell me to find work – to do jobs the other sex workers asked me to do in return for food.
My mum could be away for up to a week at a time so I had to find work to feed myself and my little sister. One job was to collect stones and crush them into gravel to sell.
I also used to draw water for sex workers. I?had to walk for miles to get bucketloads of water from a well. I’d make four or five journeys a day in exchange for five kwacha [about two pence] a trip.
I didn’t work in the bar but men would try to entice me to have sex with them. I refused because I had heard that it was wrong to do such a thing. Being exposed to advances like that was very difficult.
One day Kenrinie, the matron of the Mchinji centre, talked with my mum. She said that I shouldn’t be living at such a place at my age; it was not a good place for me to be. She said that it would disturb my growth and my education.
At first my mum ignored what Kenrinie said and refused to let me go to the centre. But Kenrinie reassured her that it was good for me, and that she would look after me. Eventually my mum agreed.
I like it here. I live well with my friends without any problems. I live in harmony and peace. I’d like to stay here as long as possible.
Sometimes I think about what my life was like and I cry. Here I am safe, looked after and treated as a child should be.
Since I’ve been living here my mum has moved from where she was working and is living with a man. I went to visit her once, but the man was unhappy about having to feed a child who is not his. So my mum said: ‘If you come back here, you will have to fend for yourself because I don’t think your stepfather will look after you properly.’
I’m very uncomfortable about living with him. It would also be very difficult for me to continue with my education there. Living here, I am happy. I am able to go to school and want to continue with school for as long as possible, so I can fend for myself in the future.
I’d like to become a social worker or a teacher. Or maybe a matron to look after other children who’ve faced the kind of problems I have.
Joshua, 11, has been staying at the centre for two months
MCHINJI is my home area. After my father died some years ago my uncle, who lives in Matapira village in Lilongwe, came to visit my mother. He told her that he wanted me to help him look after his cattle, but he also said he would send me to school. So he asked my mother if she would allow me to go with him to his home in Lilongwe. He said that he would look after me and protect me.
He took me away. But he didn’t treat me well. In the evenings he gave me food, but whenever the cattle went into another field to feed he’d tie me to a tree and beat me. I was never really happy when I was staying with my uncle.
After I’d been staying with my uncle for three years, a man came to see me and told me: ‘Your mother has sent me here to fetch you. You’re going back home to Mchinji.’
So I said to this man: ‘Let me collect my clothes.’ He said not to worry, we’d buy some new clothes on the way. So we left Matapira and headed for Mchinji on the bus. I was surprised when we passed the place where I’d normally get off.
That’s when the man told me that we were heading for Mozambique. He hadn’t been sent by my mother at all, he was abducting me because he wanted me to herd his cattle. I was powerless and stranded – there was no one to help me.
We stopped somewhere to buy some French fries and some men came over to me. They asked me where I was going and if the man I was with was my family or my village chief.
The people said they would help me. They promised they would refer me to the Government, who would be able to get help. I thought maybe it was just another way of trying to take me away and maybe sending me somewhere else, because I wasn’t really sure what was happening to me.
But I am glad that I met these men and that the man didn’t take me to Mozambique, and I am glad that I came here.
I like this place. They feed us so well. One day I would like to live with my mother again. It has been years since I last saw her. I know that will happen one day. When I live with my mum I will continue my schooling and when I finish school I would like to work as a driver. I hope that some day I might even own my own car.
Sophie, 14, has been staying at the centre for three months
WHEN I was 13 my parents died, so I went to live with my grandmother in the capital, Lilongwe. The problem was that my grandmother could not provide for me properly. There was no money to sustain us.
An uncle came to us and told us there was a woman in Mchinji who needed some girls to work for her. She needed house girls to clean, do the laundry, cook and keep the grounds clean. He promised that the woman was going to pay 2,000 kwacha [£7.50] a month.
So I went with my friend and my uncle. However, when we got to the house in Mchinji and my uncle left, the woman said that she would be paying us only 700 kwacha [£2.63] a month.
We were expecting to get the 2,000 kwacha and to be able to provide for ourselves and family. Her 700 kwacha was not enough. We tried it for eight days. Then we told the woman we were not prepared to work for so little money. We asked her if she could give us some cash so we could travel back home. But she reacted by shouting abuse at us. We never got a penny.
The woman who lived next door found out what was going on. She advised us to go to the labour office and the social welfare office where we could get help to go back home to our village. The social welfare office reported our case to the police, who referred me to The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army social worker picked us up from the police that same day. I have been staying here since.
I am happy living here. I like the other girls and boys I live with. And now I go to school, which I was never able to do when I lived in Lilongwe. My favourite subjects are languages – English and Chichewa. I enjoy them so much.
I know I will not stay here for ever, and one day I would like to go back to the village and live with my grandmother. But there are a lot of problems. My grandmother is quite old and she won’t be able to support us. So I could go home, but there will be nothing there to sustain me.
I find it very difficult to look forward to the future and to be hopeful. But my faith is important to me and I will try to continue to abstain from premarital sex and remain pure before God.
Esau, 15, has been staying at the centre for three months
I USED to live in the capital, Lilongwe, with my sister. My father died some years ago and I could not live with my mother. After my father died she remarried, and her husband does not care for me. He isn’t willing to have me in their home. They live somewhere in Kasungu district, but I don’t know where. She works, but I don’t know what kind of job she has.
I was facing problems at my sister’s house. She would call me all sorts of names if I ever made any small mistake or caused a problem. Even when we were eating she used to say to me: ‘You don’t contribute to this food. You must go and work so that you can fend for yourself.’
So when people from Mchinji came looking for boys to help them herd their cattle, I gave in – because that was what my sister wanted me to do. I couldn’t go to my mother because I didn’t even know where she was.
The people promised that I would be paid well at the end of the growing season. They promised 9,000 kwacha [£33]. So I came to Mchinji and worked for one year herding cattle. Once I had been paid I returned to my sister’s home, hoping that, because I had the money, she would welcome me home, and I would live there happily. But it was quite different.
When I got there we spent the money together and after the money was gone she began verbally abusing me and ill-treating me again. My sister was not willing to have me in her home and my former employer was interested in having me back. I saw no point in staying and I decided to come back to work in Mchinji.
Working as a herd boy was very tough. I was never happy. I started each day at 6 am and herded the cattle until 4 pm – all on an empty stomach. My employer fed us only one meal in the evenings. He didn’t treat me well. He would shout at me and insult me.
Another major problem for me was that I wasn’t able to go to school when I was working and I missed it. When I was living with my sister I went to school and I loved it so much.
One day when I was out finding food for the cattle I saw a Salvation Army vehicle coming towards me. Some people had reported that I and some other children had been brought from other areas to work and they had come to rescue me. After the social worker picked me up I came to live here at the centre.
I like it at the centre. Even though I am not with my family any more, I feel at home. I live freely without being scorned. I am comfortable here. No one is rude or insulting to me. I am treated well. We are properly fed and looked after. Even things like toiletries are provided. I don’t have any of the problems I had before.
When I think about my time as a herd boy I remember that life was very difficult and all I used to think about was going back to school one day. When I was brought to the centre my dreams came true.
I’d like to stay here for as long as possible. I am happy because I am able to go to school. I don’t know what would happen to me if I left this place because I know my sister wouldn’t welcome me home. I might end up leading the same miserable life I did before.
At school my favourite subjects are English, science, social studies and agriculture. When I have finished school I would like to become an agricultural scientist and teach.
I hope that one day I will become rich so that I am able to provide for myself as I would like to.
Hayley Pearson is Editorial Assistant on the UK Territory’s weekly publication The War Cry, which first featured these stories