During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.
Raped on the border
K was born in Zimbabwe. When she was 15 years old, she travelled with her friend, F, also 15 years old, to South Africa. Things were ‘not good’ at home in Zimbabwe and K wasn’t attending school. They crossed the border illegally, travelling through the bush. On the way they encountered a man. He said he could help them cross the border, and he offered them a place to stay; as well as food and money. K and F went with the man to his house. When they arrived, K asked for some soap so that she could wash her clothes. The man gave her some soap and a bucket, and she went into the garden, leaving F inside the house together with the man.
After she finished washing her clothes, K returned to the house. She found her friend lying on the floor. She was naked and screaming. The man chased them out of the house and told them if they ever told anyone about what had happened, he would find them and kill them. K and F never directly spoke about that day. In fact, F never told anyone about her rape.
When K and F arrived in Musina they were taken to a children’s shelter and interviewed by a social worker. K told the social worker what had happened to F, but F refused to speak about what had happened in the man’s house, so no action was taken. After some weeks passed, F became aware that she was pregnant. She told K that she must leave the shelter in order to find the man. K begged F not to leave, but she could not persuade her to stay. K has not seen F since.
Sexual violence and rape is not a unique occurrence on the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa where the vulnerability and desperation of women and girls place them in precarious positions. During interviews, women have told researchers that they gave undisclosed favours to men in exchange for helping them cross the border. Other women have been murdered and raped, even while traveling in groups. One woman explains, “I came illegally across the border through the Limpopo River. I came with a group who were guided by people who facilitate illegal border crossings. They took all of my money. They were also killing and raping people in the group.”
Unaccompanied minors are children who are not accompanied by an adult when they enter the borders of a country. Reasons that children leave their home countries and families for South Africa are often linked to issues in the family home; such as violence, poverty and lack of access to education. With HIV impacting on families, some young children will cross into South Africa following the death of a parent. Unfortunately unaccompanied female minors are often more vulnerable than young boys and need particular protection. UNICEF indicates that many of their vulnerabilities stem from the children’s fear of authorities, as well as their lack of documentation. This deters them from reporting violence or seeking services, or making asylum claims which would offer them some protection and give them the ability to access further services.