Why would a teacher, fully aware of his student’s pregnancy, still ask her to lie down on her belly and proceed to whip her behind thoroughly? Why would teachers ask her to kneel down during mass punishments, knowing the toll this would have on a pregnant student?
*This story is part of a series of articles on the issue of teenage mothers in Kenya and the reasons why they don’t return to school despite legal provisions for them to do so. Each teen mom I feature has a different and personal reason about why she hasn’t returned to school. I hope you find the articles insightful. Today I share Beryl’s story. Be sure to read the other stories on Elsa, Dayana, Lavenda and Rukia. You can read the full long-version here.
Beryl* is a 17-year-old teen mom. Her son is 10 months. She had been dating her 21-year-old boyfriend, a mechanic, for four years when she discovered she was pregnant. At that time, she was a Form 2 student in a girls’ boarding school in Siaya county.
Beryl would experience nausea and vomiting which she couldn’t hide from her classmates and as her belly grew, so did the murmurs among her fellow students and teachers.
Soon, she was summoned to the matron’s office and a pregnancy test done. The results were positive. She was then taken to the school Principal, whom she describes as ‘a warm, elderly and understanding woman’.
“The Principal encouraged me to continue with my studies until I was ready to deliver. She told me not to worry, that I wouldn’t be sent home. She even called my mother and assured her of the school’s support as I studied,” she says.
Mockery from other girls
Reassured, Beryl was however not prepared for the taunts she would receive from the student community.
“The girls would talk behind my back. Whenever I walked past them, they would giggle and burst out in thunderous laughter. I would feel awful.”
Additionally, Beryl was expected to do everything else like other girls. There were no exceptions for her.
Beatings and punishments while pregnant
“All the teachers knew I was pregnant. Yet when it came to punishments, there was no consideration for my status. I remember when the chemistry teacher asked us all to lie down on our bellies, before thoroughly whipping our bottoms. I was three months pregnant then, but it didn’t matter to him. I thought I would lose my pregnancy that day.”
Mass punishments, which happened often, were dreadful experiences for Beryl.
“We would be made to kneel for hours, and this was very difficult for me. Despite the teachers being aware of my pregnancy, they didn’t care.”
Ridicule from teachers
It didn’t end there. Some teachers would make snide remarks that hurt Beryl.
“They would say things like: ‘there are some of you in this class who have decided to start doing things that only adults are supposed to do’. My classmates would start chuckling, while giving me side eyes. I would feel very bad.”
It reached a point where, when specific teachers would walk into class for their lessons, Beryl would walk out, because she knew they would make mean comments directed at her during the lesson.
Beryl reported these incidents to the Principal, who promised to talk to her staff. But things didn’t change and worsened as her pregnancy grew. At five months pregnant, and tired of the negative treatment from students and some teachers, Beryl quit school.
The Principal nevertheless assured her that the school’s doors were always open and urged her to return when the baby was old enough to be left under the care of someone. While grateful for this gesture, Beryl says that if she were to return to school, it would have to be a different one as she cannot go back to the same ‘mean’ teachers.
Beryl is grateful for her supportive parents who encouraged her to return to school when her son turned six months, assuring her they’d take care of him.
Unexpected turn of events
As Beryl was contemplating going back to school, albeit a different one, her son fell ill at five months, leading to his hospitalization. He was diagnosed as having sickle cell disease.
“My son doesn’t eat well and is often sickly. He takes doses of medication three times a day. The doctor said that due to his frail health and the nature of sickle cell disease, my son needs me round the clock if he is to have good health. If I return to school now, he will not receive this dedicated care and I could lose him,” she says.
Due to the numerous hospital visits, Beryl moved to live with her father in Nairobi, while her mother continues to live in Siaya. They support her with the baby’s expenses.
Adult education school
One time when she had taken her son to hospital, the doctor informed Beryl of a programme that would be able to take in her son when he turns three years. When enrolled in the programme the doctor said her son would benefit from free medication and education. It is this promise that Beryl has been holding onto dearly.
Once my son is enrolled in the programme, I believe I’ll be able to return to school.
“I’ll be 20 years old then. Maybe I will enroll in an adult education school as I will be too old to go back to a regular school,” says Beryl, who scored 306 marks in her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE).
Beryl is a single mother, having parted ways with the father of her son. She left him after discovering he had other sexual partners.
“I was shocked when I found out that I wasn’t his only lover. For my own health and peace of mind, I ended the relationship,” she says.
No sex, no support
After she left him, he cut off all the support he was giving her. Despite knowing that his son is sickly and needs financial assistance, he’ll only support Beryl if she agrees to a sexual relationship with him.
For now, Beryl’s focus is on the health of her son. She is holding on to the promise of the doctor’s assurance that once her son is three years old and enrolled in the programme, she will be able to pursue her education ambitions.
What are your thoughts on Beryl’s story? Do you think she will be able to return to school eventually? Share your thoughts in the commets section below.
Also, if you work in an organization that deals with girls and young women that you’d like highlighted, reach out to me on firstname.lastname@example.org
*Name changed for purposes of protecting her identity.
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