Azinza, 12 years-Togo

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« Azinza, 11, a victim of rap »

Azinza (a fictitious name meaning “Mermaid” in Togolese) is 12 years old and likes to study. Even during the holidays, she spends hours on end writing and doing maths exercises to reach a clearly defined goal: to be “the manager of a bank” when she grows up.

“I don’t usually have fun; my games have to do with my studies. I just care about my school books, that’s all”.

Têvi Elom Lawson-Lartego.

Têvi Elom, Azinza’s tutor at the Child Development Centre (Centre de Développement des Enfants (CDE)), says she is a “very smart girl” and believes in her so much that he promises she will be a “solid” woman. However, before anything else, she must overcome a trauma: Azinza was raped by a relative of her mother’s partner when she was only eleven.

Accompanied by her mother and the CDE team, which is qualified to deal with cases of child abuse, Azinza was treated at the hospital in Vogan, a small town 45 km away from Lomé, the Togolese capital. Medical examinations confirmed the abuse and police later detained the alleged perpetrator – an exceptional situation in a country where the overwhelming majority of cases of violence against children go unpunished.

Vogan has about a thousand inhabitants. The houses are built with red clay, with thatched roofs, and the roads are unpaved. Many people do not have access to sanitation and drinking water is scarce. The rape occurred precisely when Azinza was coming back from getting water from a well.

When she returned to school two days after being raped, the headmaster questioned the young student about her absence. Azinza confides to us: “I didn’t have the courage to tell him”. She ended up only telling a close friend she trusts.

New tests revealed, meanwhile, that she had not been infected with any sexually transmitted disease. With the support given at the Child Development Centre – institution that helps more than 230 children between the ages of 3 and 22 – Azinza began to be seen every week by a psychologist at the hospital in Vogan. “Now I feel a little better”, she admits.

“We decided to include a psychologist in the Azinza case so as to recover some sort of normality, because she was deeply affected by the rape”, Têvi Elom confirms. In addition to dealing with the trauma, the little girl has to face other challenges, such as living isolated in a virtually deserted place.

Vogan is located in southern Togo, in the Maritime region – the most developed region in a country where poverty affects almost two thirds of the population (59%). The city market is a reflection of the local economy, primarily agricultural: cotton, coffee, and cocoa, which still make up the largest source of revenue for the Togolese, are abundant in a landscape where tropical fruits, spices, dry fish, and small domesticated animals are also plenty.

The numerous difficulties she faces on a day-to-day basis are not set-backs for the young student to reach her goal: managing a financial institution. “I wish these people who abuse us, young people, would stop doing so, that way we can go to school and become great people able to help other young people in the future”.

Over 260 Togolese women and girls have received legal and social aid against various forms of violence since the French Muskoka Fund was set up in 2010. Azinza’s tutor launches an appeal so that rapes do not go unpunished and states that “help for victims should be a priority” for the civil society and the Togolese authorities. “We must work together to prevent and rectify these crimes”, he concludes.

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