This is the last in a series of interviews with children who have been rescued by the Ministry of Human Services, which we are publishing in recognition of Child Protection Week.
*Diane grew up in the hinterland with a father who tried to find pleasure in fondling his own baby daughter without much opposition from her mother, and when she became a teenager he decided to stake a personal claim to her.
She lived with her mother and siblings unaware that her father had cruel intentions because her parents had been separated since she was five years old. The home was quiet, happy and it provided shelter for Diane. All this changed when she decided to leave home and spend a few days with a grandmother.
“I went for a holiday with my grandmother and never saw home again because my father came for me,” Diane said. She is a fluent speaker and though the story she was about to tell was painful, she calmly recalled the events as they unfolded with a level of maturity and eloquence that belied her 14 years.
Diane was visiting her paternal grandmother when her father barged into the home and uprooted her and two younger brothers. He declared his children were going with him and that no one could challenge him on his rights as a parent; the grandmother did not even try. She let him take Diane and her brothers and failed to inform the children’s mother when it happened.
It was some three months after the father snatched them that Diane’s mother became aware of it, but she was powerless at that time to do anything because the father had moved them away to live at an undisclosed location.
Diane and her brothers were later introduced to a stepmother. The family shared a shack her father erected which Diane described as, “barely able to withstand a strong breeze.” She was afraid at first and grew particularly afraid when her father started acting strangely. In her own words, she was terrified of a man whom she barely knew and who was suddenly dominating her life.
Things got stranger, Diane recalled, as her father started to ignore her stepmother and developed a sudden interest in her. She said he asked her and an older brother to go and cut cabbage at a backdam and she questioned why only them.
“I asked him why my stepmother couldn’t go but he shouted at me saying she was not going and that I had to shut up,” Diane recalled. She had doubts about the trip, but had no choice but to go.
As she suspected the trip had nothing to do with cabbage since they had barely gathered a few when her father ordered her brother back to the boat and insisted she accompany him for a walk.
They ended up at an abandoned home in the area where her father ordered her to take off her clothes while flashing a cutlass in his hands. She resisted and recalled asking how a father who was supposed to protect her, could turn on her and ask for sex.
“I kept saying why and saying that he was suppose to watch out for me, not take advantage but he got angry and then he assaulted me,” Diane recalled. The mentally tough teenager begged for a brief moment and broke into tears. She cried for a short while then continued her story.
The assault lasted for a few minutes and Diane was told not to say a word. Her father even threatened to take her life if she uttered a word about the ordeal. The child picked herself up and went home braving a smile while struggling to act normally. She was forced to sleep with her father on several other occasions under the pretext they were going to cut cabbage. The assaults occurred in January last year.
Diane recalled that her father started to beat her stepmother constantly after she questioned the nature of his relationship with his daughter. She was afraid to be left alone with him and for good reason; her father started demanding sex every night and for hours. The child said she was unable to rest for two weeks.
The father later decided to show Diane off so he abandoned his sons and left the area with her alone. They ended up in Region Ten where he took her drinking and when people enquired who the child was he identified her as his wife. He even met a distant relative and told the same story to him, but the man’s wife had seen Diane before and knew instantly that something was wrong.
“She asked me if I wasn’t his daughter in his presence and he was embarrassed. He admitted that I was his child,” Diane said. The woman immediately hatched a plan to rescue Diane and she invited them to sleep over for the night and the father agreed. At the home she questioned Diane and the child recalled breaking into tears. She later told the woman the entire story.
That night they attempted to hide Diane away, but the father flew into a rage and they were forced to produce her. However, they decided to go through with the plan the next morning and unknown to him they placed Diane on a bus and sent her to Georgetown.
“I was on this bus on my way to Georgetown for the first time and I cried. I came off the bus and stood at one spot for hours until I saw my aunt who helped me to escape,” she recalled. The woman took Diane to a relative in the city and they later called her mother. Her mother was informed of the abuse and it was only then that she revealed how the father had fondled Diane as a baby.
The family subsequently called in the Child Care and Protection Agency of the Ministry of Human Services and begged for the child to be protected. Officials at the agency moved swiftly and arrested the father; he was convicted on one of the charges. The trial is ongoing for the other matter.
Diane confronted her father and he denied the assaults, but she is determined to attend court and win justice. She said of the court hearings, “I never miss a day.”
Diane said she has learned how to forgive, but more importantly, free herself of the shame she felt. She is hurting still, but is healing also. She said staff at the agency have taught her how to cope and to rise above the ordeal.
“I went through that, but I am looking ahead,” Diane said. She is attending a city school and is doing well. Her brothers were rescued from the area where the father abandoned them and are now with her mother. She has hopes to leave the city a stronger person and to return home to lift her community. Diane also plans to work to protect children in her community who are at risk.
*The name of the child has been changed to protect her identity.