A sombre atmosphere last week engulfed the court as a seven-year-old girl gave a heart-rending account on how she was forced by her stepmother to eat faeces as punishment for soiling blankets.
The 19-year-old stepmother is facing charges of ill-treating a minor under provisions of the Children's Act.
The girl gave evidence in the victim friendly court, on a closed circuit television screened from a separate room. Harare magistrate Ms Anita Tshuma is presiding over the case.
The girl said her father threatened her if she gave incriminating evidence against his wife. Ms Tshuma was forced to briefly adjourn the court after many people watching proceedings from the closed circuit television could be seen shedding tears. In her testimony, the girl said she had a running stomach when the stepmother forced her to eat her faeces.
"I had a running stomach and I told mother before I soiled the blankets. After I soiled the blankets, I was beaten with a hosepipe before she chased me out of the house in the evening. While outside the house, mother poured cold water all over my body and forced me to wash the blankets. She threatened that I was going to sleep outside the house if I did not open my mouth and eat the faeces," she said.
During cross-examination by prosecutor Ms Francisca Mukumbiri, the stepmother denied ever ill-treating the minor, saying she had been taking care of her since 2009. She, however, admitted to assaulting the girl using a stick.
Charges against the stepmother arose sometime this month, when the minor soiled her blankets. She allegedly forced her to eat the faeces. A neighbour saw the minor's mouth full of faeces before she washed her, it is alleged.
It is alleged that the stepmother assaulted her and denied her food, forcing her to rely on neighbours. The accused allegedly failed to take the child to school on numerous occasions. The matter came to light when an anonymous note was dropped in a police suggestion box leading to the stepmother's arrest.