Monday, June 20, 2005

Don't Agonize Over Gladys-ORGANIZE for Children's Rights in Kenya

Onyango Oloo Adds His Voice to a National Outcry...

Like tens of thousands of Kenyans accessing our newspapers via the internet, I was literally stupefied for twelve seconds when I visited the East African Standard website to find out what was happening at home a few hours ago.

The picture by Soni Tanu of yet another brand new


Child mother,10-year-old Gladys Chelagat(a former pupil of Chemamul Primary School) holding her baby weighing 2.8kg at Kericho District Hospital stunned me as I reflected that this little msichana was four and a half years younger than my own teen son- who is still very much a child to me. I shared the anger, bewilderment and shock of most of my compatriots who have been united in their outrage across a range of Kenyan discussion forums. We all clicked ferociously for the text to accompany that harrowing image- but this turned out to be a fruitless quest.

Having recovered from my shock, I would like to urge myself and all Kenyans reading this that we really should not be shocked AT ALL.

There are other child mothers out there, as you can see from the picture below:



Now consider this factoid:

- Each year 1 in every 10 births worldwide is to a mother who is still a child herself.
- Girls in their teens in poor countries are twice as likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth related causes compared with older women. Girls 14 and under face even greater risks.
- Children born to children are more likely to be delivered prematurely and at low birth weight and are more likely to die in the first month of life.
- Young mothers also face enormous health risks: Obstructed labour is common and results in newborn deaths and death or disabilities for the mother. Research shows that young mothers and their babies also are at greater risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
- Globally, the minimum-age-for-marriage laws must be improved and enforced.
- Canada has a low rate of infant mortality due to a high level of young girls enrolled in secondary school.


SOURCE

Here is an excerpt from the 2004

Save The Children Report focusing on Child Mothers:

More than 1 million infants – and an estimated 70,000 adolescent mothers – die each year in the developing world because young girls are marrying and having children before they are physically ready for parenthood, according to the report released today.

The report’s Early Motherhood Risk Ranking identifies 50 countries where motherhood is most devastating for young girls and their babies. Nine of the ten highest-risk countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. Niger, Liberia and Mali top the list. Other countries with high-risk scores outside of Africa include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua and Yemen.

In the ten highest risk countries, according to the report, more than 1 in 6 teenage girls aged 15 to 19 give birth each year and nearly 1 in 7 babies born to these teenagers die before age 1. The rankings are based on marriage and birth rates among teenage girls in each country as well as infant mortality rates for children born to teenage mothers.


You can access the entire 2004 Report by clicking on this link.

I have written previously on this blog and elsewhere about the sexual exploitation of children in Kenya, so I will try not to rehash any of that today.

Predictably, most of the first gut reactions have been driven by a red hot rage as Kenyan netters around the world ask for more details about the person who impregnated that ten year old child. Just as predictably, many of the people looking for this person want to imprison, castrate or otherwise punish this individual.

This seething sea of livid collective anger is largely justified.

However, we all need to place an ice pack or two on our individual foreheads because we definitely need to COOL DOWN CONSIDERABLY.

Fulminating against the person who impregnated young Gladys is NOT GOING to help this little child deal with the traumatic experience she is undergoing at this very moment.

In my humble opinion, our IMMEDIATE focus perhaps should be identifying concrete ways of supporting Gladys Chelagat and her family, including her brand new infant.

How can we do that?

First and foremost by making sure that Gladys and her child have enough to eat and that they remain healthy.

Secondly, by counselling this child to overcome her trauma- because that is exactly what her pregnancy and child birth has been. At this point, I do not think that Gladys NEEDS any stern lectures from anyone on pre-marital sex- she is already a mother and preaching to her of the many sins she has has committed will be kinda STUPID, if you ask me.

Thirdly, I do not think this child was prepared to have a child at this tender age in her life. So she needs ADULTS who can assist her in embracing positive parenting skills- which DO NOT come naturally, by the way.

Fourthly, Gladys is still a primary school girl who must stay in school. That means that she will be a better mother for her young infant if Gladys herself is allowed to GROW UP FIRST to be a WOMAN who has an education that can enable her to live an independent and dignified life.

In doing all this, we must avoid the temptation to be any kind of MISSIONARY (including the secular kind) but rather work in SOLIDARITY and RESPECT with the rest of Gladys' immediate nuclear and extended family. We should check our judgments of her family at the door if we are really serious about assisting Gladys.

One of the most FORTUNATE things about this unfortunate tragedy is that one of us, I mean a Kenyan netter who is very active in at least two of these Kenyan online discussion forums holds a key position in a certain very well known international children's rights agency. I am not going to mention him by name but I think if he is reading this (in fact I will make sure by e-mailing him directly wherever he is) he should know that some Kenyans abroad such as myself will defer to his direct, hands on leadership because he is out there, on the ground dealing with thousands of other Gladyses all over the world.

Ndugu Mwananchi are you tuned in?

As we know, there are literally HUNDREDS of other Gladyses in Kenya.

What can we do to PREVENT more ten year old girl Kenyan children from having children?

A good place to start is to peruse that 2004 Save The Children report again, combing it for pointers that we can then customize to suit our specific Kenyan national context.

Apart from working directly with girl children at risk of becoming pre-teen and teen parents, we should also tackle the problem at the broader societal level.

I am talking about having a comprehensive national strategy to stem the epidemic of child abuse which has physical, psychological and of course sexual components.

Yes, I do think that it is IMPORTANT to enact TOUGH LEGISLATION to resolutely act against child abusers, ESPECIALLY when such abusers are ADULTS within the FAMILY or are trusted individuals like TEACHERS, PRIESTS, IMAMS and the like. Such perverts should know that there will be ZERO TOLERANCE for such barbaric behaviour. But again, to reiterate my earlier rider- we should not allow vengeance and punishment be the sole criterion and plank that we float on in tackling these serious social issues.

It is at times like this that we should ask about our budgetary priorities as Kenyans.

Those millions being spent on beefing up our military when we face no credible internal or external security threats could be redirected to support social, educational and health programs to nurture our children.

Does Kenya need a new building to house our useless members of parliament or a new community centre for children like Gladys Chelagat?

Does Kenya need more SUV gas guzzlers for ministers or more school buses for children such as Gladys Chelagat?

Does Kenya needs to spend millions of shillings shipping politicians to another ineffectual talk fest retreat in Mombasa or should they spend more money ensuring there are better pre and post natal facilities in places like Kericho?

There are many things that we could all do- ranging from fundraising to volunteering to counselling to advocacy to media awareness to investigating and reporting child abuse to providing support networks for this and other Gladys Chelagats in our midst.

I will pen off here.

Onyango Oloo
Montreal


FEEDBACK from two Kenyan forums:


from africa-oped:

Date: Mon Jun 20, 2005 2:22 pm
Subject: Re: Don't Agonize For Gladys...

Oloo,

Of course I know you're on the side of good, and thanks for standing up. I always say if more men stood up, we could bring down the crime of child molestation to zero in half the time.

However, I felt rather disappointed that at no point do you call the crime what it is: RAPE. Reading through your piece, there's a subtle suggestion that Gladys is tainted with a certain amount of guilt, only that we have no right to burden her with judgement.

You say: "I do not think that Gladys NEEDS any stern lectures from anyone on pre-marital sex- she is already a mother and preaching to her of the many sins she has has committed will be kinda STUPID, if you ask me."

Oloo, she was raped. She is by law 6 years below the age of consent, and no amount of being a "willing" participant on her part can erase this exact crime: RAPE. There ought to be NOT a single iota of a suggestion of guilt for rape of any kind, otherwise that opens doors to tolerance of this gruesome injustice.

You also say: "I do not think this child was prepared to have a child at this tender age in her life."

This sounds as if there's room for debate. No, she was NOT prepared for parenthood, period. There should never be a debate as to whether a 10yr old is ready for parenthood or not. A resultant healthy baby notwithstanding, it is a terrible crime on a child and it must be seen and treated as such.

If we ever leave room for "may-be's" in the issue of child molestaion, we are bound to get thousands of those who will continue to tolerate the crime because of the gray areas we create.

You rightly call for ZERO TOLERANCE. To achieve this, there's got to be no wishy-washyness on the issue.

mk

From Kenyaonline:

From: ndunguk@...
Date: Mon Jun 20, 2005 6:43 pm
Subject: Re: [KOL] Don't Agonize for Gladys.../Oloo
Ndugu Oloo,

I thank you for writing this piece and also for your private message. Your challenge to me, in the position I occupy as one who has dedicated his life to Children and young people is a reasonable one. I also agree that that Gladys’s plight, tragic as it is, should not be the reason for over reaction, chest beating or other assorted mea culpa's. But to be honest,this is the time when I regret having chosen the professional path I did.

I know for a fact that Gladys is only the tip of the iceberg, that the animal who put her in the family way is likely to get away with it. I can put a face behind every negative statistic bandied about in publications…..but this is not the time.

I have been thinking on the unfortunate life we have allotted for our children, not just in Kenya but elsewhere on the continent. Indeed if a society’s greatness is judged by how the mighty treat the weak, we have failed. But I think there is a way in which we can turn this situation
around. Where the sacrifice of Gladys and her peers could become a force for good. I promise to share my thoughts with you and others in two weeks time. I know by then the emotional reaction to this crime will have waned.That is the way I want it. Because we shall not make much headway through knee jerk reactions as you have wisely counseled.

As for the immediate needs of this child/mother, I realize my contribution may not be necessary. There are many others on the ground better placed to intervene than I. Nevertheless, my contribution is required, I will do my part.


Ndungu

"Nyambura SM Chinkuyu \(NSMC\)"
Wed Jun 22, 2005 8:59 am

Kaka OO,

I am sorry that I CANNOT HEED your CALL NOT to AGONIZE for GLADYS-!!

It's not possible for me not to agonize! I have TRIED not to AGONIZE in vain. Whenever I see these cases, I always think "It could have been my daughter, my niece, etc". The whole damn thing makes me feel so HELPLESS and POWERLESS!. I am so FRUSTRATED with the slow pace of change-----hence my apathy.

I read through Gladys story and have SUFFERED with GREAT BITTERNESS!! When I first looked at the picture, I thought Gladys was holding her SIBLING in her hands. Her face alone looks like that of a 5 year old. Her eyes are so trusting and childlike--I can't imagine going through a C-section (though now a fairly routine and safe procedure) at 10--an experience, yours truly has first hand experience with :). Would she even understand what is going on? Does she even understand when and how she got pregnant? I doubt it!! Does she even have the breast milk to feed her child? What about bathing, feeding, tending to the child? Did her 10-12 years peer make her pregnant? I doubt it! It will not surprise me to learn that a pastor, a teacher, an uncle, a shopkeeper and NOT a stranger was involved in all this! How many other Gladys are out there! Thousands! We don't get to hear about them because they hidden and tucked away in seclusion and shame. All we do is blame and shame such girls for being "bad"girls. After all, how many of us view circumstances that led to Gladys pregnancy at 10 years of age as RAPE; STATUTORY RAPE; CHILD ABUSE; VIOLATION of HUMAN RIGHTS, coercion, manipulation, deception, etc. We are so well socialized to only view the girls in such situations as having been bad, as having put themselves in a situation where they could be violated, being tempting to men and boys through their actions, looks, etc, not being strong enough to RESIST men, etc. We are so well socialized to:

Keep silent, hide, and cover up rapes, child sexual abuses, and actions whereby young girls are violated sexually;
View the babies born to girls such as Gladys as burdens to the family and society and a source of shame; e.g. it reduces their "marriage" prospects
At one time, society expelled girls who got pregnant from school and refused to readmit the girls to school
The girls were viewed as if the girls get pregnant in the head or as if pregnancy is disability that deters learning; etc.
View girls especially young succulent girls as sources of pleasure and entertainment for lusty men-and we take it as a given as excuse it;
Having said that, I do believe that in the LONG RUN, Gladys will be OK! Also, the fact that this case has become public,things can only get better for Gladys,not worse. My prayer is that Gladys did not contract a virus in the process of conceiving her baby,for obviously the very means of conceiving is also a probable means of contracting HIV virus. My prayer is that Gladys gets to go back to school, complete her education, and become a "productive" ( ) member of society.

NSMC

To Which the writer of the essay responded:

Onyango Oloo (oloo_wa_canada@yahoo.com>)
Wed Jun 22, 2005 5:13 pm
Subject: Re: Kaka OO wa Montreal--Don't Agonize for Gladys.../Dada Nyambura

Salamu kutoka Toronto:

Sister:

Perhaps you misunderstood me. Of course as a parent of course I was livid because I have nieces,cousins and other family members that age. What I meant is that we
should take that anger, that anguish, that agony and channel into an
organized fury, a mobilizing frenzy for children's rights.

I hear what you are saying. We are not only on the same page, but on the
same side. I wrote my essay because I do not want to be an accomplice
to the conspiracy of silence where people indirectly condone such
outrages through benign neglect...

Onyango Oloo
Toronto





5 comments:

Yar Jowi said...

How can we not agonize over Gladys plight? It is time to save our women, our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters etc have gone through years of incest, rape, sexual abuse and frankly I am tired of it. Kenyan women need to start acknowledging that these crimes are happening and stop protecting these crimials out of shame. It is sad to say that we can no longer trust anyone with our children,no uncles, cousins, houseboys.etc. Women! we can only fight our own battles. Protect your daughters, sisters and friends. Pay attention to your surroundings until Kenya passes a Lorena Bobit Law!

Ochieng Atieno said...

Pictures alone are not going to cut it. Are there laws in Kenya barring pregnancy at the age of 10? Was the pregnancy as a result of marriage, incest or sexual abuse? Soni Tanu need to tell us more...

rafiki said...

Have to agonize with Gladys - my question is - where are her parents? If she indeed has parents, they too should be prosecuted along with the man who put her in this predicament...

Sindi said...

i am a 30 year old women from South Africa who gave birth in September last year to a pretty baby girl. im sitting at work right now i am thrembling filled with disgust, tears running down - how on earth could something like this happen?? how could society allow a 10 year old be inpregnanted?? where is Glady?? what has happened to her child?? who is the father?? where is he?? i hope he is rotting in Jail!!! i can not begin to emagine what that 10 year old went through - is there help for such kids?? where do they go to??? how i wish i can reach out and hold her!!! somebody tell her "i love her" God forgive me for thinking that mylife was misery
ngongoma@hotmail.com

Miss Crysy said...

As a parent (I'm late on this issue evidently) I just would lik to know (not placing blame) where was her mother? Parents? Can someone update me on how this child is doing? Has there been any sort of fund set up for her? How can we as an abroad community participate? Please tell me or direct me. I think also what I hear this author saying is that sadly as a society we tendto blame victims even sometimes in the smallest way...blame is not what is needed now nobilized hope is!