My dad, my lover: Stories from Kenya’s incest capital - Daily Nation

My dad, my lover: Stories from Kenya’s incest capital


My dad, my lover: Stories from Kenya’s incest capital

A 14-year-old girl, who claims she was raped a few months earlier, has skipped classes to nap at home.

Nekesa has a sad look when she shyly opens up to tell her story. She looks at the baby in her hands, a healthy two-year-old girl who is sucking her thumb forlornly, as if she is one with her mother’s turmoil. Mother and daughter have 15 years between them.

The baby whimpers when Nekesa shifts her from the right shoulder to the left, casts an empty gaze to the ground, and, almost in a whisper, says: “Huyu mtoto ni wangu, lakini pia ni dadangu. (This is my child, but she is also my sister).”

The ensuing silence is palpable. The elderly lady accompanying Nekesa for the interview excuses herself and vanishes into her mud house. Moments later, she steps out, muttering that she has nothing to offer us, her visitors. She reclaims her seat and takes charge of the story.

Her name is Gertrude Wanjala, once a respected mkunga -- as traditional birth attendants (TBA) are referred to in this village of Sirisia in Bungoma County. But the government started frowning upon TBAs, whom it accused of misleading pregnant women, and therefore being part of the reason almost 20 women die at childbirth in Kenya daily.

Luckily, development agencies moved in to reorient the TBAs by training them, and today Wanjala is referred to as a ‘birth companion’, as the T-shirt she is wearing proclaims. Her work involves tracing and referring pregnant women and girls like Nekesa to health centres for antenatal care and safe delivery.

She remembers how, in 2015, Nekesa’s mother visited her, haste in her leg and worry all over her face. It seemed like just yesterday when Wanjala had helped her give birth to Nekesa, and Nekesa was now pregnant! “The mother asked me to sweet-talk the daughter in order for her to tell us who the culprit was,” remembers Wanjala.

MY FATHER GRABBED ME

She enticed Nekesa with her favourite dish of matoke (cooked bananas), and she opened up. The girl, then in Standard Seven, was at home alone one day when her father, a loader at the local market, came home early. “Alinishika matiti, akasema ananitaka. (He grabbed my breasts and said he wanted me),” she confided. She managed to turn her father down that day, but she claims the advances grew bolder by the day until her dad had his way.

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Nekesa with the child she claims she sired with her father.
Nekesa with the child she claims she sired with her father.PHOTO | KIUNDU WAWERU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

From then on, says Nekesa, her father became dangerously abusive towards her mother, forcing her to leave the matrimonial home. Soon after, Nekesa fell pregnant. Her mother got wind of it and returned home, but daughter remained tight-lipped. “Alikuwa amesema atanichinja. (He had threatened to kill me if I ever told on him),” she said.

The two women decided Nekesa was safer staying with Wanjala until she gave birth. They never reported to the police, even after he asked Wanjala to get rid of the pregnancy, and when she refused, demanded that she kill the baby immediately after birth. “I told him: ‘My work is to help give life; not take it. If you dare harm them, I will go to the police,’” says Wanjala. Nekesa soon married a 24-year-old casual labourer.

The following day we head to Webuye to probe yet another case of suspected incest. It is a school day, and the 14-year-old girl, who claims she was raped a few months earlier, has skipped classes to nap at home. The girl’s mother, accompanied by a community mobiliser named Titus Sungura, deliberate quietly and decide not to share the story with the media as the case was recently mentioned in court and the father, the prime suspect, is still in remand.

We respect their decision and make our way out of the compound, but not before we see the girl, who walks with her legs wide apart. Her mother says the girl has not recovered from the defilement. “But there are so many such cases here in Western Kenya,” offers Sungura. “Allow me to take you to Kabuchai, where yet another girl is suffering in silence.”

THREATENED WITH DEATH

Shantel turns out to be a bright girl — dark, short, and with an infectious smile. Her case is at the local court, and we decide to delay publication of this story to see its conclusion. Confident and eloquent, Shantel starts by saying she has lived “many lives” and suffered a lot. Her mother and father were always fighting, and her mother kept running away, leaving her four children in the care of their father, as is the Luhya custom.

Then, in 2010, her mother died while giving birth. Their maternal grandmother took Shantel and her siblings in but the father later came for them. The firstborn, Shantel was basically the mother of the house, and one day in December 2014 her father defiled her. Like in the case of Nekesa, Shantel was threatened with death if she ever told on her father, but with intervention from a local politician after she fell pregnant, her father was arrested in April 2015.

In September 2015, Shantel gave birth to a baby boy at the Bungoma County and Referral Hospital. She had sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and scored 336 marks out of a possible 500 in 2014, but her father refused to take her to secondary school. “I knew I could score more marks and maybe get a scholarship, so I decided to repeat Standard Eight,” she said in 2015.

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Shantel, who turns 18 this year, with her two year old son at their grandmother’s home in Bungoma. Shantel claims that she was sexually abused by her father, leaving her pregnant, but a DNA test exonerated him.
Shantel, who turns 18 this year, with her two year old son at their grandmother’s home in Bungoma. Shantel claims that she was sexually abused by her father, leaving her pregnant, but a DNA test exonerated him. PHOTO | KIUNDU WAWERU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

But the pregnancy kept her out of school and she only went to sit the national exams in November. Her grades dropped to 323, and though still a good performance, and despite promises from the local politicians, she has never attended secondary school. Together with her grandmother, who says she has HIV, they do casual jobs to cater for their needs and to educate Shantel’s siblings. Shantel’s grandfather is serving life in prison for defiling a seven-year-old girl in 2012 at an orphanage in Trans-Nzoia County.

In the meantime, her father’s case was ongoing in court. We followed its progress through the arresting officer, a burly man at Ndengelwa Police Post who took us to the Bungoma Police Station and onwards to the prosecutor, Yusuf Ibrahim. “The initial report was that he was abusing Shantel and her two siblings, a boy and a girl,” said Yusuf. “Medical tests revealed that the girl, a nine-year-old, had indeed been abused, but the 13-year-old boy’s turned negative.”

When Shantel delivered, DNA analysis of the baby turned negative in respect of the father, but Yusuf said this would not be the end of the case “if the judge is convinced there is a compelling case against the accused”. “It does not mean one will go scot-free if one’s victim has sex with someone else,” he explained. In mid-July last year, the case was thrown out for lack of evidence. And that was it.

COURT CASES

Does this happen a lot? We visited the Bungoma Law Courts to find out. Unfortunately, it is only recently that the court acquired a proper, nicely bound book to document sexual offence cases. The kind court clerk at the desk agreed to peruse the old, dog-eared files, which revealed the oldest pending case on defilement dates back to 2009.

Cases of rape, defilement decreased between 2010 and 2013, but rose in 2015 to date. By June 2017, 50 cases of rape and defilement had been brought before the court, making a total of 150 pending cases since 2015. After Shantel’s case was withdrawn we visited her father to get his side of the story.

He was at first reluctant to speak to us, but eventually agreed to the interview. A desolate man who says he served two years at remand for nothing, he took us around his homestead, past his wife’s grave, to where his house used to stand.

“They said I had impregnated my daughter to get me out of the way, so they can get my land,” he said, referring to his brothers. He claimed they sold off three acres of his land and used the money to have him imprisoned. But aid workers and the police believe he sold the land to influence his case. As we leave, one thing is clear in our minds: the case might have been thrown out, but the family is as divided as ever.

On a beautiful Saturday evening, we head towards Mt Elgon to meet a girl allegedly impregnated by an uncle. Christine’s home is atop a hill and, leaving the car at the foot, we climb over a bushy, treacherous track to their humble abode. Dusk is falling. The pregnancy is visible over a torn black blouse.

She remembers the day, Saturday of December 9, 2016. Her mother had sent her to the grandmother’s homestead, about a hundred metres away. Her uncle, a 40-year-old father of five, asked her to help sweep his house as he was expecting visitors. She obliged. “Nilisikia nimerushwa kutoka nyuma. (He pounced on me from behind),” she remembers. She cried out but he cupped her mouth and forced himself into her. She never told a soul, until the mother noticed the pregnancy months later.

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Christine (15) claims she was impregnated by her uncle.
Christine (15) claims she was impregnated by her uncle. PHOTO | KIUNDU WAWERU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I reported to the teacher, who reported to the chief. The man was summoned but he never showed up. I reported to the police and nothing has ever been done, I see him come and go,” says the mother. A few months later, she calls. The daughter has given birth. They have no food in the house.

NO BIG DEAL

Overwhelmed by the girls’ stories, Gabriel Ingubu, the co-author of this article invites, me together with Janepher Masai the Matron at Bungoma County Referral Hospital to Mukwano FM, a community radio, to discuss incest, defilement, and teenage pregnancy. The call-ins are overwhelming. Almost everyone knows about a defilement or incest case, or it happened to them or a close family member.

As a result, teenage pregnancy has become the norm in the community that no one, including local journalists, sees it as a big deal. The Bungoma County nurse, Getrude Wanyonyi, says in 2016 alone 51,037 girls aged 10-24 years were put in the family way. Of these, 19,847 were adolescents aged 15-19. The youngest was 10.

“This data reflects only pregnant teenagers who sought antenatal services from our facilities,” says Nurse Wanyonyi. “A significant number don’t attend clinics and are delivered by unskilled attendants.” She, like many people here, believes that lack of education — including on sexual and reproductive health — poverty, and child or early marriages are to blame for this state of affairs.

But the former Bungoma County Executive of Health, Stephen Kokonya, spins this theory, saying it is teen pregnancy that causes poverty in the area. “If you give birth at teenage, chances are your daughter will do the same. And the cycle continues,” he says. And the community, as the callers at Mukwano FM showed, somehow echo the former minister.

Little is being done to stop this moral crime. Nekesa’s former head teacher acknowledges that the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, which calls for comprehensive sexuality education, contraceptive education and contraceptive methods, has not been fully implemented in schools. He says sex education in schools goes something like: ‘If a boy and a girl do particular things, they will get a baby. Just don’t play with boys.’

Unfortunately, as the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey shows, 15 per cent of Kenyan women have their first sexual experience at age 15, meaning they are exposed to practices they are scarcely prepared for.

Editor’s Note: Names in this report have been changed to protect the identities and privacies of minors. Shantel had urged us to help her join secondary school this year. We obliged, but she left her grandmother’s house on Christmas Day. She has never returned; no one knows where she is.