by Allison Schlack
Justice. It’s a popular word. Millennials love it. Youth groups use it. Organizations make it their mission statement. It’s mentioned in Scripture. It’s a characteristic of God. Beautiful. Difficult. Implies wrongdoing and struggle. Overused (by me, too). And not seen often in our part of the world. So that’s what makes the following story all the more stunning…
|Mama Bon works with many of Ndoto’s youngest students|
I first heard of Alice when her younger brother joined Ndoto a few years ago as one of our new students. Her family’s story stuck out from the beginning. Alice is the first born of four children. The kids should have been in 2nd or 3rd grade, but had never joined school because their parents didn’t have the money. Her father doesn’t often work and relies on his wife to support the family. She does laundry for different people to earn a bit of money for food. What stunned me, however, was a story Mama Bon, one of our staff members, told me shortly thereafter.
It was a normal day for the family. Alice and two of her younger siblings had accompanied their mother for a routine washing of a client’s clothes. Alice’s mother believed that if she took her kids with her to work, clients might offer some food or small help for the kids. They were hungry, struggling, and living in a house that was literally falling down, so every bit of help and sympathy made a difference. After finishing, they began the long, hot walk back to Obunga. As they were walking, a motorcycle taxi driver they knew offered to give Alice and her brother a free ride home. Feeling for her children, Alice’s mom accepted the kind gesture.
|Before she knew it, he was threatening her with a knife and telling her that she must go with him.|
The motorcycle taxi driver brought them close to their home and dropped off her brother, but detained Alice. He took Alice to the local theater, bought her a soda (both generous gifts for a child who never got either), and told her to wait for him. He came back for her later and took her to his house and they ate together. But before she knew it, he was threatening her with a knife and telling her that she must go with him. They took a long motorcycle ride, far from Obunga, and he continued to threaten her that if she didn’t comply or if she screamed, he would kill her. He then proceeded to rape her. Then he left her in the bushes to die and took off.
Sometime later, a passerby heard Alice making noise and found her. The police were called, and Alice was taken to the hospital. They also took down her statement. Because she knew the man, and he was a neighbor, she was able to tell the police exactly what had happened. Police, community leaders, local administration, and Alice’s younger brother went searching and found the culprit, who was operating his motorcycle taxi as if nothing had happened. He was taken to jail to await trial.
|We decided we would attend the trial as a support to her heartbroken parents and watch the inevitable corruption and incompetence unfold.|
At this point, I stopped Mama Bon’s story and asked more about Alice. “She’s 8 years old,” Mama Bon said. I’m overcome by this story, her family, and what I know will happen next: nothing. Nothing will happen for a poor family. Nothing will happen for the uneducated. Nothing will happen in a corrupt court system, especially without bribery. Without knowing what to do next, I suggested admitting Alice as one of our students. Bringing her into the Ndoto family would not fix what had happened; nothing could fix that. Enrolling her in school as one of our students wouldn’t bring justice, but it would help her. So, Mama Bon and I decided that was the best we could do: help Alice get an education, medical care, counseling, and tell her about Jesus and the healing he could offer. Then, we decided we would attend the court appointments and trial as a support to her heartbroken parents and watch the inevitable corruption and incompetence unfold.
|George regularly helped Mama Bon at the court appearances|
And that was exactly how it started. Files were lost. Police officers failed to show up. Witnesses weren’t called. Government appointed lawyers changed so often I stopped asking for their names. The judge seemed genuinely concerned, but as she handwrote every detail of this case and all of her other cases, even she seemed overwhelmed. After months of this we began to despair, yet Alice’s father would show up at every court appointment doing what little he could to get justice for his daughter even as he heard that the defendant had been accused of this before and nothing had happened. One day, in a moment of righteous anger, I gathered Pastor Michael, Mama Bon, and a few other community leaders and we marched to the police station to see the officer in charge of this case. We confronted him about his failure to do his job, pleaded with him to consider this young girl and others like her, asked him to think about his own daughter, and let him know we would file a case against him if he continued to obstruct justice. We also let him know we would research to see if he was receiving a bribe from the defendant’s family and turn the information over to his superiors. Whether frightened or convicted, he began to work on the case. The file was found. He showed up in court. Another officer traveled from hours away to testify. Witnesses were bonded. We began to see a small light at the end of a long and wicked tunnel.
In addition, Alice’s case faced other major delays. The courts were understaffed and overflowing with cases. We could never get every player there on the same day. The judge went on maternity leave twice. We almost gave up several times as we began to hear stories from friends at other non-profits that child defilement cases were rarely ever prosecuted because of these delays and lack of serious commitments on the parts of law enforcement and lawyers. One ministry leader shared that they had not had a single conviction for any of their girls in more than 15 years.
|After 60 court appearances in two and a half years, the judge set a date for the judgment.|
Our team continued to pray and refused to give up. Mama Bon showed up to every court appointment where Alice’s case was even going to be mentioned. Two other staff members, Joshua and George, also took turns showing up. We tried to trust God and maintain patience. We learned they wanted a sample of Alice’s blood in the lab, which was a small but good sign. We learned that the defendant had never been let out of prison. A larger good sign. The judge returned from her second maternity leave and seemed serious about criminals who hurt children, probably thanks in part to the children to whom she had just given birth. After 60 court appearances in two and a half years, the judge set a date for the judgment. Mama Bon and our team, along with Alice’s family, showed up eager and nervous. Nothing. “The judgment isn’t ready – come back next week.” The following week, everyone showed up again. “We can’t continue – the prosecutor isn’t here.” Another date was scheduled. That morning was just like every other day except for the very chilly weather. Other cases were mentioned, and our team waited patiently. When the moment came, the judge gave the accused one last chance to convince the court of his innocence. Showing no remorse and having nothing new to say, he received the judge’s verdict. He was found guilty and immediately sentenced to life in prison.
|Joshua also worked hard for Alice’s justice|
Shock. Glancing at one another in disbelief. Deep sighs of relief. Some sort of peace. It came in waves over our staff and Alice’s family. Happy? No. Joyful? No. Nobody wins when a child is raped and someone spends their life in prison. Nobody wins when the process of justice takes two and a half years. But this was never about winning. This was about justice. For a little girl and her family who would never be the same as a result of this act. For a community often neglected and overlooked in court. For the other little girl we believe was raped by the same man. For the glory of God. For His ability to do the impossible.
Amos 5:24: But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!