Gender Gender

When step-parents get mean: What to do

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
THE relationship between a step-parent and step-children is often fraught with misunderstandings, petty fights and sometimes gets so bad that one house becomes too small to accommodate either party.

The bad blood between step relationships are common between mothers and children.

Step-fathers also have their own weakness, but the stories of conflicts and abuse are common between mothers (including other female legal guardians) and their children.
While some people have good relations with their step-children, what is common is that these relations are never cordial despite some parents joining their new families while the children are quite young.
There is a common belief that when the step-children are young, probably less than 10 years, it should be easy for a step-parent to quell any future ‘rebellion’ and train the children to accept him/her like their biological parent.
Normally, when you love a little child and treat it well, he/she will repay what you invested in them during their upbringing.
But alas, the happenings in our communities indicate that it’s the minors that are more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of step-parents.
Apparently older children are even given some semblance of respect by mean step-parents and are likely not to be tortured and mistreated the way younger ones are.
Why do I say so?
Media reports are replete with such stories but a case in point is an unfortunate incident in Chisamba where a step-mother brutalised and killed her eight-year-old step-daughter. Little Musola Chansa was actually reported missing by her step-mother, Charity Banda last December.
Banda, who confessed to killing her daughter, buried the minor a few metres from the family’s front door. To avoid raising suspicion, she planted sweet potatoes on the minor’s grave.
When police exhumed Musola’s body, they noticed that the bones were black, an indication that the body had been burnt prior to burial.
Further examinations of the body revealed that the skull had been broken.
Obviously when the poor girl went missing, her father must have been agonising over her fate, but must have been emotionally shattered to learn that he had actually been passing by her grave every day.
Cases of minors being tortured by step-parents are many and I could go on and on giving examples. But here is one last case that I feel could teach step-parents and witnesses of abuse some lessons.
This story inspired me not just for the reason that the culprit is behind bars, but because neighbours summoned some courage to save the life of the minor.
So this step-mother, age 30, forced her four-year-old step-son to sit on a burning brazier. His offence was defecating in his pants, a thing that is common among children of his age.
After the boy got burnt, the callous woman, would lock him in the house, perhaps waiting for him to die ‘quietly’. According to the boy’s own testimony in court, after he got burned, his step-mother, Catherine Namonje, would ask him to hide under the bed. The boy’s father was on separation with his wife (the minor’s mother) when the incident happened.
Well, I salute the concerned neighbours who alerted police about the incident, resulting in Namonje’s arrest. One neighbour who in fact witnessed the gruesome act against the minor, testified in the magistrate court.
Namonje was sent to jail for five years a couple of weeks ago, after being convicted of one count of assault on a child.
This woman’s arrest and conviction was made possible by good neighbours.
But how many neighbours today can volunteer such information to police and testify in a court of law against cruel step-parents and other guardians?
Probably very few because either they want to mind their own business or do not want to offend their neighbour.
But good citizenship requires being your neighbour’s keeper and this involves speaking for victims of abuse and where need be, testifying in a court of law.
If many of us were good citizens, child abuse and the infringement of children’s rights would not degenerate to the level where it is today.
There are too many cases of child abuse in homes happening with the knowledge of neighbours and relatives who care less to stop it.
Child abuse shouldn’t be happening in a place one calls home. A home should be the best place for a child to be, and without partiality or discrimination, parents, whether biological or not, should provide the love, material and moral support that a child needs.
My esteemed readers, we owe it to our children and dependents to make our homes child friendly places.
All children in a home must be given equal opportunities to grow and develop into responsible citizens.
A person who marries someone who has children should accept the children and treat them like their own.
If this sounds like a bitter pill to swallow, it’s better to stay alone than marry someone and only to create a living hell for their children.
Better still, one can make a choice to marry a man or woman without children, if taking good care of step-children is too much to ask of them.
Things should not get to a point where children are tortured or denied basic needs because their mother or father has brought in a new partner.
Neither should they get to a point where a child leaves home whether by compulsion or expulsion. Such a child will definitely not enjoy certain children’s rights which are made possible by virtue of children being in the custody of parents or other legal guardians.
According to Article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), parents or legal guardians have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of a child. This is according to the UNICEF child friendly version of children’s rights,
Article 19 gives children the right to protection from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally.
The rights to food, clothing, a safe place to live and to have the basic needs met, are enshrined in 27 of the CRC.
Article 3 requires all adults to do what is best for a child and when they make decisions, they need to think about how the decisions will affect children.
And similarly, Article 5 obligates the family to enlighten children about their rights and ensure that these rights are protected.
So much as step-parents ought to introspect their treatment of step-children, biological parents need to keep their eyes open and make sure that the atmosphere at home is child friendly.
It is folly for any man or woman to pretend that all is well, meanwhile their children are having a rough time at the hands of a step-parent.
Believe you me, a mean step-parent will only get out of hand if their partner allows it. Phone: 0211-221364/ 227793


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