by Joe Kasaka (Zambia National Union of Teachers)
After my colleagues from ZNUT Headquarters and I had gone around to schools in Kitwe to sensitise the teachers on the evils of School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) a nasty incident happened at one of the schools involving four grade one pupils.
Peter was a quiet, handsome and intelligent grade one boy who was always very smart and loved and admired by many of his friends, his class mates and teachers.
Peter was a class monitor. He was a very intelligent boy who always came first in his class. He was always punctual and dressed neatly in his grey school uniform which was always clean, as compared to children of his age who always soiled their uniforms with earth.
His uniform looked like it was imported from an international uniform manufacturing company, when in fact it was sewn by his mother who resides in Kwacha compound in the city of Kitwe in Zambia.
This seven-year-old boy who always wore a friendly smile came from a medium income family. His parents did not earn enough to make ends meet. The mother sold tomatoes in front of the two bedroomed house they rented from the retired teacher, while the father was an underground miner who worked long hours digging copper in a mine owned by a South African company. The company did no not pay them well despite long hours of hard work. The father could not leave such employment as there were no alternatives given his qualification as a grade twelve school leaver.
The day was Monday 6th May 2019, and the school had just opened for the second term. Every child was excited to meet their friends and teachers after missing each other for one month. The children gathered at the assembly point and were addressed by the head teacher on many issues, among these the need to behave well in school and avoid confrontational behaviour amongst themselves, and respect for teachers. This came in the light of several sensitisation meetings that we had conducted at the School over School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV). The head teacher was just re-emphasising the point to the children and indirectly reminding the teachers of the need to identify SRGBV.
It was time for the children to be in class and begin to learn. Peter’s teacher quickly came into the classroom to appoint a monitor as he was trying to sort out an issue with a parent who had come to the school. The teacher appointed Peter to note the noise makers whilst he was away attending to the parent. The teacher left, and the class went into a deafening silence as though the teacher had not gone out. But not for long. Two boys and one girl started playing in class and made a loud noise, such that the teacher cut short the discussion with the parent and rushed to the classroom. The teacher asked Peter who was making the noise. Peter named the two boys and one girl. The teacher then asked the three culprits not to leave school at the end of that day, as they were on punishment. School rules prescribed that all pupils on punishment, should sweep classes after school.
All went on well at school. After school the trio swept the class very fast and then ran out to find Peter. In a short while, they managed to find him. The trio, who were aged 7,8 and 9 years, asked Peter why he had reported them to the teacher for making noise. Peter did not answer. The trio became agitated and started to beat Peter.
Efforts by Peter to defend himself failed. He was overpowered by the three classmates and beaten like a rat. The fight was fierce and vicious as though it involved adult persons. As the three saw Peter was powerless and not fighting back, they ended the fight and ran away to their homes leaving Peter lying on the ground.
By this time news filtered in the compound that four grade one children had been fighting and one of them was lying on the road leading to the school.
Members of the nearby community rushed to the spot and for sure discovered Peter who was just gasping for breath. A well-wisher picked the boy up and took him to his residence.
As this was happening, Peter’s father was already at work underground in the mine. Peter’s mother was home, busy preparing food, anticipating that Peter would soon be home from school. As usual Peter’s mother liked playing Zambian music loudly as she did house chores. She liked playing songs by the Masasu band which portrayed the life styles of many Zambian peoples. That music moved her heart so much. Normally she would also dance and sing along as the food cooked on the charcoal brassier behind her house. Sometimes she forgets that she was cooking and the food would get over cooked.
Suddenly there was a thunderously knock on the front door and Peter’s mother, in a jovial mood opened the door. No sooner than she had done so, her mood changed. She almost fainted when she saw Peter in bad shape, but she plucked some courage and received Peter from the well-wisher. She laid Peter on the their recent bought settee and immediately called for a taxi. In a short while the taxi arrived at their home, and Peter was placed on the back seat. The taxi roared like an ambulance meandering through the heavy Kitwe traffic, in a rush to the hospital. Normally, it would take thirty minutes to reach the hospital but the taxi took only fifteen minutes.
The community where Peter’s family resided began inquiring as to which children had done such harm. Eventually the children were identified and their parents were asked to contribute towards Peter’s medical costs. The compound was tense, gripped with grief over the event.
At the hospital, Peter was immediately rushed to the Doctors’ emergency room where the doctor started to work on him. He was slowly degenerating and was soon put on life sustaining machines. Hours later the doctors assured the mother that he was responding to the medication and would be fine. The mother gave a sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, Peter’s father had just come out of the mine and had gotten news about Peter’s admission to the hospital over the alleged beating by his classmates. He quickly called for a taxi and was soon in the emergency room where he found peter recuperating, an oxygen mask over his face. The father felt extremely exhausted and saddened. The doctors reassured him that all would be well, that there was no need to worry.
Two days later Peter’s condition had improved greatly and the father was happy that Peter would soon be discharged from hospital and continue with his schooling. The news of Peter getting better filtered through the entire compound and most people sung and praised God for Peter’s recovery. This was good news.
The teachers at school also learnt of peter’s recovery with great happiness and could not wait to see Peter back in class. The teachers began talking to pupils over the ills of SRGBV and started cautioning the pupils that fighting at school was not a good thing. The school SRGBV committee also started sensitizing the teachers that SRGBV was a crime and that all teachers should avoid it by all means. They emphasised that the beating of Peter by the classmates should serve as a warning to would be perpetrators of such criminal acts.
Peter’s admission to the hospital had now entered day four and Peter was now much brighter than the first day of his admission. The doctors were contemplating moving Peter from the emergency ward to a general ward. It was great news for all. Peter was finally moved to the general ward and everyone was saying Peter was just remaining in hospital for observation.
The following day, day five of Peter’s admission, all was well. The doctors moved into the ward checking on patients and when they reached Peter’s bed, they looked at Peter and said there was no reason to keep the boy as he had recovered. So Peter was discharged that morning and headed home with the mother. Upon arrival at their home, the entire community took turns to come and see Peter. It was an exciting moment for the family and the community.
But that very night, Peter’s condition changed for the worse. It was late in the night that his parents have to take him back to the hospital. Both parents had tried to administer first aid to the boy but in vain. At about 03.14hrs, in the early morning of the sixth day of his illness, Peter met his death. It was shocking for the parents to see the boy who had almost recovered, die in such a circumstance. At about 0900hrs the body was taken for post mortem and mortuary services. The post mortem report was that Peter had died of internal bleeding as a result of severe beating sustained from his classmates.
After Peter’s death police swung into action so as to apprehend the perpetrators of this heinous crime of murder. At first the police thought community members had lied to them that Peter was killed by three children all aged below ten years. After thorough investigations, the police found that it was actually the under ten-year-old minors who had conspired to kill their classmate because he was appointed monitor and had reported them to the teacher for making a noise in class.
The trio could not be held criminally liable as the law in Zambia does not criminalize minors below the age of ten, and they were below the age of ten. So the school and the community equally were not able to do anything to the minors.
A few days later after the death of Peter, my colleagues and I re-visited the school to talk to the teachers about the effects of School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV). We discussed the turning point from that experience. It was at this meeting that I learnt how traumatized our teachers were after Peter’s death and pledged to commit themselves to the fight against School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV).
The lesson is that we need to come together as a school, as a community and a country and fight School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) whenever it manifests. It has the potential to end one’s life like the case for Peter. School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) has no age limit. It can be perpetrated by anyone at any age. Let’s keep our eyes open to avert School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV).
The views, opinions and words written in the article are solely those of the author. The article reflects the author’s journey, view point and progress in their own words.