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Kenya mothers ‘pressured to kill disabled babies’

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Lydia Njoki’s youngest child Samwell, who has epilepsy and physical disabilities, would not be here if some of her family had their way. 

Her own grandmother went as far as suggesting how she could kill her baby.

“She told me to insert needles into Samwell’s veins – that they would kill him slowly and no-one would know what had happened,” she said. 

The 56-year-old mother-of-four lives in Narok County, Kenya. 

“People said I was cursed, that’s why I got a child with a disability,” Ms Njoki said.

Many a night, she cried herself to sleep: “I hated myself and asked God, why me?”

Florence Kipchumba faced similar pressure – her family told her that her baby should be sacrificed. 

“As an infant, Meshack used to cry a lot, and when my family couldn’t take it any more, I was kicked out of home,” she said. 

A friend then took her in, only to also suggest she kill the baby a month later. “She asked me to put acid in his food so that he could die, but I refused to do so and left her house.”

The decision to resist the pressure to kill has had lifelong consequences for Ms Kipchumba. She was forced to flee her community, and now lives with her son in a tin shack, doing odd jobs to survive. 

When Meshack was younger, his backbone was weak and he had no head control. “I would dig a hole in the ground, lay him in it and use the soil to form a cushion around him,” his mother said.

She says she does not regret her decision to keep her child for a moment.

The boy is now eight years old and can sit and walk short distances, albeit with some difficulty. 

Ms Njoki and Ms Kipchumba are not alone.

A new study in Kenya has found that 45 per cent of mothers interviewed by a leading charity faced pressure to kill their babies born with disabilities. 

The survey found that the situation was worse in rural areas – where the figure could be as high as two in every three mothers. 

Most of the women interviewed by Disability Rights International said their children were considered “cursed, bewitched and possessed” and that a belief prevailed that the mothers were being punished for their sins, including being “unfaithful to their husbands”. 

Infanticide is rooted in old traditions and beliefs.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’

An elderly traditional birth attendant in Narok, south-west of the capital Nairobi, told the BBC that according to her culture, babies with disabilities were killed out of love. 

“What used to push people to do that was the helplessness,” said Timpiyan enole Koipa, seated inside her mud-walled one-roomed house dressed in a bright chequered red and white shawl and rows of traditional beaded necklaces. 

“The child would otherwise suffer if it was allowed to live,” she adds.

While infanticide was the most shocking part of the Disability Rights International’s report, it is not its only finding.

The researchers initially set out to assess conditions in orphanages and care homes, where nearly 3,500 children in Kenya live. 

The author of the report, Priscila Rodriguez, told the BBC: “What is outrageous is that the government is passing the responsibility for these children to orphanages… Out of sight, out of mind; the government does not need to care for them any more, does not need to provide for them, does not need to ensure the supports they need are there.”

They took us to see one, Compassionate Hands for the Disabled, in Nairobi.

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The story of the home, and its owner, in some ways encapsulates the problems this society has with disability. 

Anne Njeri was born disabled and decided to start a day-care centre for children with mental and physical conditions.

She never intended it to be a residential home. 

“But in a week, we had 11 abandoned children, and in a month we had 30,” she said.

She tried to look for the parents who had abandoned the children, but to no avail – they dropped the children off in the morning and simply never picked them up again. 

She now has 86 children in her care.

Watching her interact with them, it’s clear they love her, and are loved in return, but she admits the home needs to do more.

Researchers agree, and told us the way they are looked after, kept indoors and often restrained, will make their conditions worse. 

But it is the government of Kenya they are most critical of. 

The Kenyan government did not respond to our request for a response, although it is understood they admit more needs to be done. 

While the idea that half of women with disabled children faced pressure to kill them as babies is truly shocking, it only reflects those whose babies made it to childhood.

We have no idea how many others gave in to that terrible pressure.

Infanticide of children with disabilities is not unique to Kenya, but data is hard to come by across the world. 

Studies recognise that it has history back to ancient times, remaining a significant problem during the 20th and 21st Centuries. 

Research says children under one are at four times greater risk of being murdered than any other age group. 

Cases often go unrecorded or combined with other offences, and most countries lack institutions that track such deaths, so the true magnitude of infanticide remains unknown across the world. 

“They are done underground,” says Veronica Sialo, a mother of a child with cerebral palsy and a community leader in Narok. 

“Because any child can die at birth or when they go home [from hospital] you just hear the child has died. But when you follow the background, that child was disabled and that’s why the family killed that child,” she adds. 

“Some of us in our culture believe it’s a curse, that you’ve been bewitched, so you’re not wanted in the community.” 

Her views correspond to the findings of a report titled Children accused of Witchcraft, by the UN Children’s Agency, Unicef.

The report, which focused on the African continent, says “abnormal births” would often led to the killing or abandonment of babies. 

But in some countries, practices and beliefs changed because of the influence of colonial missionaries.

Other communities have seen the introduction of alternative practices such as paying fines in the form of dances and ceremonies instead of sentencing the child to death, helping to erase suspicions. 

New laws and the actions of organisations defending children’s rights have also seen cases of infanticide reduce. 

Back in Narok, Veronica is doing her best to improve the lives of mothers like her and their children.

She has formed a support group that now has 43 members, including Florence Chebet and Lydia Njoki. 

These mothers say they have found solace in knowing others like them.

They want their children to be accepted by society.

They meet once a month to share experiences and to encourage one another.

Veronica’s mission is to see her community overcome one of the oldest and most cruel beliefs. 

“We need to do awareness so that they know that these are children like any other,” she concludes.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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