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Memory (not her real name) is a mentally-challenged destitute woman who has been living and begging on Harare’s streets for close to five years now. Although people are sympathetic of her condition often helping her with left over food, some have not been so kind.

Memory is vulnerable and male vagrants sexually assault her.

Being mentally challenged, she cannot fully take charge of her life and has also missed out on opportunities that include education.

Memory is like many other mentally-challenged women and girls who are physically, mentally and sexually-abused.

Yesterday, Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of People with Disabilities and it is such people who should be remembered, always.

This year’s theme is “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology”.

While the Zimbabwean Constitution is premised on principles and values of equality for all, and denounces discrimination on the bases of gender, the unreported cases of girls and women who are abused because of their disability are baffling.

“Such abuse of the mentally challenged often starts at home with girls and women who suffer from that condition being despised, deprived of their basic rights and are treated unfairly as compared to other members of the family.

“It is sad that some of the girls with mental problems are often confined at home while their peers attend school.

One begins to question if the system of special classes that promoted the education of such children is still in effect,” lamented Mrs Moira Munyuki of Unit J, Chitungwiza.

She knows a girl who faces such abuse.

She believes poor treatment of the mentally challenged often leads to negligence and abuse.

In some instances, these women do not even have the basic needs like sanitary pads.

Others go for days without bathing and changing clothes.

Some cannot even make family planning choices as most of what happens in their life is decided for them.

Sadly, most of these women fall pregnant through rape, sexual abuse, for traditional rituals or beliefs.

Some miss out on pre-natal care as the pregnancies are kept secret.

“It is the right of every human being to have access to medical treatment. Mentally-challenged pregnant women have a right to medical treatment.

“By depriving them of this right, we are not only undermining their dignity but are also helping in fuelling mortality rates as there are higher chances of death without professional medical attention,” said Mrs Audrey Tasaranarwo, the public relations officer of Chitungwiza Central Hospital, who is herself a trained midwife.

However, the country is faring well in terms of information dissemination on HIV and Aids.

This year, the country scored a first in health interventions by becoming one of the few countries in the world to implement a mainstream HIV and AIDS peer counselling training programme for people with disabilities.

According to the National Association of People with Handicaps (Nascoh), the programme kicked off in January 2014 and will run till December 2016.

“A disability and HIV and AIDS situation analysis commissioned by NASCOH in 2003 revealed that people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to AIDS due to their low literacy levels, little access to health care, high vulnerability to sexual abuse, lack of information on AIDS especially for the visually impaired and hearing impaired, and consequent lack of inclusion in AIDS intervention programmes,” said Nascoh.

A pastor with a Harare-based Pentecostal church, Trymore Tembo, said it is a sin to abuse mentally challenged people.

“People are committing a sin against God. The Bible says all human beings were created in the image of God.

“All human beings big or small are equal and it is God alone who decides why there should be such people in our midst.

“The greatest lesson he wanted to give to us is that we should love one another,” he said.

Added Pastor Tembo: “Organisations aocating for women’s rights as well as the law, seem to be conspicuous by their lack of aocacy and vigorous law-enforcing to protect the rights of the children and women who are mentally challenged.”

Source : The Herald