By Maryanne W. Waweru l email@example.com
35-year-old Salome* is a mother of four who lives in Nyeri town with her family. Her first-born daughter Kena*, aged 18 years, has a physical disability.
Kena has spasticity, a condition where an abnormal increase in muscle tone or stiffness interferes with movement and speech. At her age, Kena is unable to speak –her attempts to do so only yielding a few incomprehensible words. Kena is also unable to use her hands to perform basic functions. Spasticity is usually caused by damage to nerve pathways within the brain or spinal cord that control muscle movement.
A few years ago, Salome took her daughter to the family planning clinic and put her on a contraceptive injection, which she renews every three months. I spoke to Salome about her decision to do so.
“There is an incident that happened when my daughter was 13 years old that is forever etched in my memory. At that time, Kena was a pupil at a school near our house. I would walk her in the morning on my way to work, and when the school would close for the day at 3.30pm, she would walk home –a stroll that took less than 10 minutes.
One day, as was her routine, she walked home and as she was closing the door behind her, a man flung it open, banged it shut and began attacking her. My petite-sized daughter, who cannot scream or shout for help as her vocals are undeveloped, was unable to fight off the attacker.
Meanwhile, I was on my way home as my employer graciously allowed me to leave work early so that I could be home at around the same time my daughter arrived from school.
On that day, I arrived in the nick of time.
When I opened the door, I was horrified by what I saw. Having overpowered her, he had stripped her naked and was holding her down on the sofa. The man had his pants down to the ankle and his manhood was erect.
Because I had startled the man, he bolted out of the house. Everything happened so fast.
After quickly recollecting myself, I rushed my daughter to hospital where thankfully, the nurses established that she had not been defiled. Kena was crying helplessly, obviously shaken by what had happened. I felt horrible, but nevertheless grateful that I had stopped the man from committing a horrible act.
After our release from hospital, we went to the police station and reported the incident. The man was nowhere to be found.
I knew the man
When I returned home, word had already gone round and my neighbours began apologizing profusely, informing me that the 31-year-old man who had attacked Kena was their nephew. A drug user, he had become a nuisance to his parents, who had then sent him over to stay with his uncle (my neighbour) in the hope that he would reform. I had seen him a couple of times in the estate, so he was no stranger.
When his parents learnt about what had happened and that the police were looking for him, they disclosed his whereabouts. They said he was better off in the hands of the police than those of the public –which was baying for his blood.
Sent to prison
We pursued the case in Court successfully, which culminated in his sentencing for charges of attempted defilement. The man is currently serving a jail term.
The incident created a lot of anxiety in me. knowing that I cannot always be with my daughter to give her round-the-clock protection, a strong, agonizing fear began tormenting me. Kena was growing up and becoming a woman, and this worried me a lot. What if a man took advantage of her in the one second my eyes darted away from her? What if she got pregnant?
Family planning for my teenage daughter
After stressing about it for a long time and realizing I would go crazy as it was impossible for me to be with her all the time, I decided to put her on a contraceptive. I talked to her about it, and I believe she understood. She was 15 years old then.
After our conversation, I took her to the family planning clinic where she was put on a three-month contraceptive injection. She gets a new shot every three months, and I’m the one to takes her to the family planning clinic for this. Kena is now 18 years old.
Kena receives her monthly period as usual and has never experienced any side effects to the best of my knowledge.
I believe putting her on a contraceptive was a good decision. She was only 13 when the man attempted to defile her. What if he had succeeded? I’m not saying that it will happen, and I’m not a prophet of doom, but knowing the immoral society we live in, if it were ever to happen that she conceives, I am certain she would suffer a miscarriage. This is because, as a girl with disability, her body is too frail to carry a pregnancy to term. I know she would suffer and I would be too pained seeing her in such anguish.
Her body cannot survive childbirth
Even if she were to miraculously carry the pregnancy to term, I doubt she would survive the childbirth experience. It would be too grueling and would batter her body to destruction. Also, who would take of the child? She cannot hold anything with her hands, and her walk is labored. How would she nurse and take care of a baby?
I have four children and with the harsh economic times we are facing, times are tough for my husband and I. If Kena were to have a child, I would need to stop working to care for both she and her baby. It is a risk that I cannot afford to take. That is why I decided to put her on contraception. That way, I know she is safe from getting pregnant. I cannot protect her from everything, but this is just one way of protecting her.
No one knows that my daughter is on contraception. I don’t think people would understand. I’m the only one who knows what I saw that day I walked in on the man just about to defile my daughter. It is a nightmare that I live with every single day.
If I were to tell people that Kena is on a hormonal contraceptive, they will judge me for it, yet I am the wearer of the shoe and I’m the only one who knows where it pinches most.”
Various factors predispose girls and women with disabilities to increased vulnerabilities. These include stigma, communication difficulties, challenges with mobility, neglect, social isolation, rejection, as well as the assumption that they are weak and dumb. This leaves them exposed and at higher risk for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
While doing my research on this article, I established that sexual violence against girls and women with disabilities is a widespread issue, but yet, one that is hugely silenced. It is one that is heavily hushed within families, and sorted out ‘internally’. A very worrying concern.
Evidence shows that girls and young women with disabilities may face up to 10 times more violence than women and girls without disabilities. It also reveals that as young girls with disabilities enter adolescence, their risk of experiencing sexual violence increases. It is estimated that between 40 to 70 per cent of girls with disability will be sexually abused before they reach 18 years of age.
There is need for the development of evidence-based interventions and prevention programs that address the various vulnerabilities that girls and women with disabiliteis face. These interventions should among others, ensure that girls and women with disabilities are safe from harm, are able to report incidents of abuse, and that justice is served for their perpetrators.
If you would like to report a case of SGBV against a child, please call the Childline Kenya helpline number 116. You can also call the National Gender Violence Helpline number 1195.
*Names changed to protect the identity of the minor.
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