On arrival, I count the children and they are 19 in number, all aged four years and below. On this chilly afternoon, oblivious of our presence, they are happily playing at various corners of the home.
These are not one woman’s children and this is not a school. In fact, their mothers are far away, attending classes at a local primary school. These mothers are children themselves, doubling up as students during the day and as parents after school.
RAPED BY FATHER
The 19 mothers did not sign up for this adult assignment. They were sexually assaulted by close relatives or neighbours, and left to bear the burden of shame, responsibility and rejection by their own families.
My father raped me when my mother was sick: Grace Mutheu* was 12 years and a Standard Four pupil when her father started to defile her. At home, she had not received any sex education and they were yet to be taught the same at school. Nevertheless, she knew what her father was doing was wrong and many times when she dared to protest, he silenced her with death threats.
“It happened during one of the school holidays. He had asked my ailing mother to go and stay at my maternal grandmother’s place for the period she was receiving treatment, because the hospital she was being treated from was close to my grandmother’s home.
“He also asked her to take with her our youngest sibling. My brother and I were left at home and that is when my own father assaulted me. His plan was simple. He would send my brother to the shops, far away from home, and this gave him the opportunity to have his way with me for hours. Because of the death threats, I did not even have the courage to tell my brother. I was afraid that my father would kill him,” she says.
Although her father was an alcoholic, not once did he abuse her under the influence of the drink. When she became pregnant, she was too young to decode the symptoms. It was her mother who figured it out.
“When she came back from my grandmother’s place, she took me to the hospital and I was tested for pregnancy, with results coming back positive. That is when I confided in her what had transpired,” she offers. Her mother reported the matter to the police but her father denied the claims. His relatives defended him but when the child was born and a paternity test was conducted, it matched her father’s. He is now serving time in jail.
She says she loves her son and would never want to be separated from him.
“I was a good learner and many times I topped in our class. However, after I gave birth and went back to school, I am no longer the brilliant girl I was. I find my mind split between class, thinking about my son and still wondering why my father had to assault me in this manner. Nevertheless, I am determined to make a good life for myself and for my son, so I am trying as hard as I can to catch up with my studies. I am now in Standard Six and focused on becoming a medical doctor one day,” she told DN2.
Ugly statistics: Teenage pregnancy continues to be a major problem in Kenya. A report by Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014, which focused on teenagers (15-19) revealed that teen pregnancy and motherhood rates stand at 18 per cent. It further stated that three per cent among girls aged 15 years have had a live birth or is pregnant with the first child.
My aunt’s neighbour put me in the family way: Moreen Moraa* falls under this category. She is 15, in class eight and expecting to deliver her first child in a month’s time. While she says she has made peace with her situation, it had never occurred to her that she would be a mother at such a young age. A man she respected and a father to two adult children led her down this path.
“I was brought up by my aunt and he was one of our neighbours. He lived with his family and I used to interact with them a lot. He called me one evening and requested that I take some items to his home. When I got there, one of his children ushered me in and I delivered the items. On my way back home, I bumped into him and he suggested that I follow him back to his house because he wanted to give me something to take to my aunt. The son was already on his way out and shortly after he had left, I requested to leave and it was at that point that he grabbed and pointed a knife at me,” she recalls.
She narrates how he ordered her to undress before abusing her and later commanding her to get out of the house. Out of fear, she decided not to tell her aunt or seek help. A month later, the school she was attending conducted pregnancy tests on female learners and it turned out that she was expectant.
“When my aunt demanded to know A rescue home with a difference:
Dorcas Kang’ethe and her husband Danshire Kang’ethe, run Wings of Compassion Rescue Home, which offers such young mothers a safe haven. Located in Marurui, Nairobi County, the couple takes in girls who are victims of sexual abuse. They are all aged 15 years below, either having already given birth or are expecting to deliver their babies.
“Currently, we have 20 girls living at the Centre and 20 others whom we support from a distance. Out of these, we have seven cases of incest,” offers Dorcas, the programme director.
The girls are brought to the home through the various children’s offices. Before admission, investigation is carried out to ascertain that they are in need of help and a committal document given to the couple by the magistrate’s court.
My mother took no action on our father: When Ann Chebet* was brought to the Centre a year ago, it took her months before she could express herself coherently. Just like it happens to many girls, Dorcas says that the ordeal had left her confused and vulnerable. At 13 years, Chebet was carrying her father’s child.
“I used to leave home for school very early in the morning. On most days, he would volunteer to escort me only to lead me to a thicket and rape me. He did not spare my little sister as well. He would even take advantage of us while asleep. My mother knew all about it but she never confronted him. It was my older sister who reported him to the police and I was rescued from home. He wanted me to procure an abortion, but I refused. He also impregnated my little sister, and she is in another children's home,” narrates Chebet.
Abuse continues unbound: Fathers, siblings and neighbours turning on the girl child is a familiar story to the Kang'ethes. Every frantic call to the Centre send shivers down their spine, for they know yet another girl has lost her innocence. “Sometimes, I am afraid to pick up the call because the case might very dire yet our bed capacity are full,” says Kang'ethe, the shelter's director.
How the rescue home started: While volunteering together in a children's home, the couple were exposed to the indifferences meted on teenage mothers.
“Most of these girls are stigmatised and ostracised by their own communities. To make the matters worse, most children's homes do not take in pregnant girls because of the burden that comes with child delivery and upkeep. So we always wanted to run a children's home but we didn't know how to go about it or how to start. One time, while still volunteering, a pregnant girl we had grown fond of committed suicide after facing rejection from her own family. That was our wake up call. We started with a feeding programme before establishing this home,” says Kang’ethe of how Wings of Compassion came to be.
The Centre, which mostly depends on donors and well-wishers, offers the girls food, shelter and education. They are also taken through counselling and mentorship. “We teach them values and the various principles of life because even if they are mothers, they are still children in need of guidance. We encourage them to enjoy their childhood,” offers Dorcas. While some get reintegrated with their families after a short period, others stay at the Centre until they are through with their studies, get jobs and are able to sustain themselves.
We are protected by the law: According to Dorcas, the fact that they follow a legal procedure before admitting the girls has helped keep off the relatives and the perpetrators who often look for the girls with the aim of either silencing them or having them recant their statements. “Unless we have carried out thorough investigations and determined that the relatives have no ill motives for the girls, we do not allow them to leave. The girls’ privacy and peace of mind is important to us. Most of their relatives do not know that they are here,” she reveals.
Worrying about ill- motivated relatives aside, the affairs of running such a home, she says, are entangled with many challenges.
“For instance, we cannot enrol the girls in nearby schools because we do not want them to face stigma. This means, we have to meet transport expenses and also pay social workers who watch over the girls while in class, lest a prying individual comes to look for them. Then, there are other bills to meet such as rent expenses. It is not easy for us but we are committed to changing and impacting their live, even if it means one girl at a time,” she offers.