By Standard on Saturday team
Concern is growing over the safety of children in large impoverished families following a spate of domestic killings.
More than a dozen children have been attacked or killed this year alone by parents struggling to take care of them in hard economic times.
At a time when the Government is providing the highest levels of social protection ever, questions are now being raised as to whether children in large families that are in crisis should also be categorised as vulnerable like orphans. Calls are also being made for increased access to family planning services.
The Government has a specialised social programme to provide financial support to orphans and vulnerable children that covers those without parents and others being brought up by grandparents and other guardians.
Two incidents last month best illustrate the problem: On May 10, a pregnant woman in Mwingi East District poisoned seven of the eight children in her care because she was “tired of suffering” from alleged violence and neglect.
Ndinda Nyamai, 31, from Nuu location, was admitted to the Mwingi District Hospital with the children she tried to poison following a domestic quarrel with her husband. Fortunately, all seven – three of whom belonged to a runaway co-wife – survived the attack.
Two days later, a pregnant mother of three threw her children into a dam near her home in Trans-Mara East District before hanging herself. None was more than five years old. Again, the incident was sparked by money troubles, with the sale of a family cow identified as the incident that triggered the woman’s actions.
Experts say it takes years of repressed anger to turn a petty family issue into a reason for murder. Mass killings of family members, they say, are triggered by stress and frustration from failed expectations.
Women kill their offspring to punish men who they see as failing in their social role as providers. Men, on the other hand, kill to vent their anger at being seen as failures.
“Stress and frustration begin to mount if a man feels he is not living up to social expectations,” says Rev Stephen Menya, a psychologist. “When provoked over the same, such a man reacts irrationally to the point of killing his own family.” In many instances, after committing such an atrocity, the perpetrator takes his life out of shame or for fear of the consequences.
Three of the seven children Nyamai attacked belong to a co-wife who had fled the home in 2008, while four are her own. All were aged between one and eleven years of age. A 16-year-old girl escaped and informed neighbours of the incident. Speaking to the press from her hospital bed, Ndinda accused her husband, Nyamai Musya, who works in Mombasa, of neglect.