I Story – A teenager?s advice – do not suffer in silence?

Date: January 1, 1970
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I am Christelle and I am 17 years old. My sister is 12 years and my brother is 9 years old. We have lived at the Centre d’ Education de Developpement pour les Enfants Mauriciens (CEDEM), a centre for abused children in Mauritius, for three years now. Since I was 6 or 7 years old, I saw my father beating my mother almost every day until the day he killed her.

As I grew up, it was hard for me to witness the suffering endured by my mother and I stood up for her against my father.  My father became very violent towards me. I was often hurt and had bruises all over my body.  Once he broke my head, and fractured my arm.
My mother brought me to the hospital when I was injured, but did not disclose anything, saying that I was playing.  Once she said that I fell down from a tree.
On one occasion, the doctor started questioning my mother.  She denied that I was a battered child.  She stopped bringing me to the hospital and I suffered in silence and without medical assistance.
I could not go to school regularly.  I felt sad and anxious to leave my mother alone at home with my father.
I could not study.  I could not do my homework. My teacher was not aware of my family problems and scolded me. During the same period, my father was very sick and we all went to stay at my grandmother’s place.  I left school.  I was 10 years old.
One day, when I was 11, my cousin’s husband raped me. My cousin knew I was very afraid of my father. She advised me not to say anything to my parents.
I was in pain and could not remain silent. I told my paternal grandmother who informed my father. The court found the rapist guilty and sentenced him to imprisonment.
When my brother was 2 months old, my father cut my mother’s hand and she stayed in hospital for sometime.  I took charge of the household, my sister and brother.
The situation worsened when my mother returned.  Everyday they both drank, and quarreled which ended in violence.  My father threw things and once tried to strangle my mother with an electric wire. 
When my mother ran away at night, I always took my sister and little brother with me.  Sometimes I left them with my neighbour, and in the dark, I went to look for my mother.
It was a Wednesday evening; both my mum and dad were drunk.  In the middle of the night, I got up hearing my mum screaming and my sister crying.
I saw my mum lying on the floor and my dad kicked her in the stomach. I tried to remove my mother, and was angry with my father.  He gave me a slap. When he heard my sister and brother crying, he went outside.
I saw blood coming from my mother’s mouth. I tried to clean it. What I can still remember is that my mum wanted to speak to me but the words she uttered were not clear.
When my dad came inside, he asked me to help him to place my mum on the bed, which I did. He then asked us to go to bed.
At about 6h 00 in the morning, my dad came to my room and told me that my mum did not want to wake up.  I talked to her but she did not respond.
I thought she was pretending not to hear us. When my father left to look for his mother, I told my mum not to be afraid as dad was out, but she still did not answer.
My grandmother came and as she touched my mum, she told us that she had passed away.  We all started crying and neighbours came.
My mum’s relatives came with police officers who took my father to the police station.  The post mortem examination confirmed that my father battered her to death.
My mother’s brothers and sisters did not want to see any of us, and did not allow us to go to the funeral. My mother’s family has always made me feel guilty about what happened to my mother. My aunt even said that I was sleeping with my father.
I still regret being denied the right to attend the funeral. The last picture that I have of my mum is police officers placing a body wrapped in white cloth in a police van.
Since my mother’s death, I have lived a very hard life. I felt ashamed to walk in the street because everybody had an eye on me.  My little sister faced all sorts of humiliation at school. Even adults did not hesitate to question her on what happened. She started having epileptic fits.
My little brother, then 3, was very aggressive to other children at school. I had nightmares everyday.  I often thought of committing suicide and once I took some poisonous drink.
One night I just left my grandmother’s house and walked for hours in the dark without knowing where to go and what to do.  I realised that something was wrong; I was scared and went to seek help from a nun.
The following day, she informed my grandmother and the Child Development Unit (CDU) of the Ministry of Women’s Rights & Child Development of my situation.  The officers of the CDU brought me to CEDEM for a weekend. 
I opted to stay in the shelter. The magistrate ordered that my sister, brother and I should stay together at CEDEM.
Despite all the problems with my father, I still love him and want to talk to him.  I have spoken to him by phone and he has told me to look well after my sister and brother. 
Had I not been to CEDEM, I would have surely committed suicide because I could no longer cope with the situation.  I can say that with the continuous support of Mrs. Rita, the director, I have overcome many psychological problems. 
I am now learning how to work with physically handicapped children.  I am very keen and happy to help these children.
I have chosen to tell my story because I know that many children my age suffer like me.  What I have to say to them is: “Please do not suffer in silence.  Speak out your problems and somebody will offer you a hand as they did to me.”
(* not her real name)

(This story is part of the I Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence). 

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