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Teen: 'I refuse to be broken after gang-rape'

Western
 Joan* is undergoing professional counselling after suffering rejection from family

When she left with a friend for a disco matanga at Machakos in Teso North to celebrate, among other things, her 18th birthday, *Joan didn’t know the agony that awaited her entry into adulthood. 

As she was walking home at 10pm after having one too many drinks, her journey was interrupted by  four men who raped her in turns until she passed out. 

When she came to her senses, she found herself in a thicket close to her home. She had a sharp pain coming from her lower body and bruises all over her. 

“I walked home and shared the encounter with my sister who advised that we walk to a clinic for tests to know whether I had contracted a sexually transmitted infection. I almost fainted when I was told that I had contracted syphilis,” she said of the ordeal in December last year that left her traumatised.

As she was nursing the symptoms of syphilis, she returned to the hospital for a pregnancy test after missing her monthly period. The results came back positive for pregnancy.  

This news broke her the most as, all along since her ordeal, she had harboured the fear that she had conceived after the gang rape. 

“I had just completed my primary school education and was looking forward to joining secondary school. A pregnancy meant that my education would be affected. Also, I didn’t know who the father of the child was,” she says. “I wept at the thought of what I would answer when the child asked me who its father was.” 

Her family was apprehensive about the news and thought that she was joking. But when the signs of pregnancy started manifesting -- mood swings, morning sickness, and swelling of legs - their intolerance grew. 

Not even her sister, who until then had stood by her, empathised with her during the trying times. 

They threw difficult, accusing questions at her: What was she doing outside at 10 pm to a point that she was raped? Who is the father of the child? Was she really raped or it is just a figment of her imagination? 

That she could not answer the questions to their satisfaction added to their intolerance and her anguish. This forced her to run away from her home and go to Kisumu where she was employed as a hairdresser. 

Her friends at the salon would occasionally inquire whose pregnancy she was carrying and she dealt with it by withdrawing emotionally. 

“It bothered me that this was the kind of question my child would ask me,” she says. “I started looking for a way to terminate the pregnancy but failed as most clinics I visited flatly declined. They said an abortion would put my life in danger. Others wondered why I wanted an abortion when my life was not threatened by the pregnancy.” 

In August, she delivered a healthy baby boy who died on her lap under mysterious circumstances. 

She regrets the death but says it also relinquished her of “the burden of answering to the question of who his father was.”

“I have been trying to recover from the string of tragedies and that’s why I am here at Mama’s,” she says pointing at Mary Makokha, who has been listening to Joan’s narration all along. “I have resolved not to be broken by the ordeal.” 

Mrs Makohkha, the Executive Director, of the Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme (REEP)  based in Butula which has been at the core of fighting for the rights of the girl child says Joan walked to her looking wasted. 

She says Joan’s is among the many cases of young women and girls who suffer double tragedy after being victims of defilement and rape. 

“She looked at her family as a place of solace but it turned the other way, a factor that largely triggered her to want to terminate the pregnancy and even run away from them,” she says.

“She came to me dejected and it took her days to open up on her ordeal, which is a key element of healing.” 

Makokha is planning to take the 19-year-old to a rescue centre in Nairobi so that she can continue with her education after finalising a series of counseling sessions she is undergoing. 

She is also working with law enforcers to see whether those who raped can be brought to book as “compelling traces of evidence start trickling in”. 

“Discriminating against a teen who gets pregnant is retrogressive, let us accommodate them and find ways of helping them,” she advises.

According to the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation report teen pregnancies stand at 18 per cent. 

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