Recently, news of a newly born baby who was stolen from Kombewa Hospital in Kisumu County hit the headlines, capturing the attention of many.
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Barely a month after the incident took place, the ‘baby thief’ known as Damaris Achieng’ was arrested at her matrimonial home in Sunga Village while attending to the baby.
Achieng’ confessed that she did not commit the offence out of will, but pressure from her husband to have a baby boy pushed her to steal the infant.
“I was initially pregnant but miscarried and was treated, but pressure from my husband pushed me to steal the baby,” she said. Achieng’ is not alone. She just represents the many mothers who have been in such a predicament.
In today’s modern society, it seems that some mothers who give birth to girls only still face the harsh wrath of being cast aside by their husbands or in-laws desperate for a son.
In our patriarchal society, the obsession for a male child is immense. The older generation believes that a male child continues the lineage and is the natural inheritor of the family business or ancestral property.
Girls are considered a liability and in some countries such as India, the fear of dowry looms large in the minds of even educated parents.
The birth of Esther Simiyu’s third daughter should have been one of the happiest and memorable days in her life. Instead, she lay on her hospital bed depressed battling thoughts of rejection.
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“I have three daughters aged 11, six and two. My husband and I had planned to have two children — hopefully a boy and a girl to balance our family,” says Esther.
However, after giving birth to two daughters simultaneously, they made the decision to try out their luck again for a baby boy.
“Throughout the pregnancy, we were hopeful it would turn out to be a boy. But when I gave birth and my husband came to the hospital to check on us, the first thing he asked was whether it was a boy or a girl. Upon realising it was a girl, he immediately walked and left us in the hospital,” she says.
Esther had failed again to deliver a son and her husband felt she was of no use.
“Though we are still living together, life has never been the same again. Once in a while, he talks of marrying another wife who will give him a son. He does not bother much about my daughters and me, and I still feel the pressure to have a boy though am contended with my girls,” she says.
Fanne Mwambi, 27, has also been in a similar situation. The mother of two daughters who works as a researcher, says the pressure to have a son started when she had her first born daughter.
“The pressure didn’t come from my husband but from his family and neighbours. My daughter was only a week old when my mother-in-law plainly announced that my father-in-law was not happy. That he wanted my second baby to be a boy!”
According to Fanne, though her husband is okay being a father to daughters, the pressure from his family to have a son takes toll on him.
She offers: “He understands the science of babies. And that he is responsible for the baby’s sex. But there are times when I feel that he wishes we could have a son. They want us to keep on trying till I give birth to a baby boy, which is hard for me. Honestly, it’s quite devastating.”
Despite every effort to change perceptions, it seems that many people still do not value the girl child. Chemutai who works with a local daily is a mother of two daughters aged three and a half and 7 months respectively.
“In both pregnancies, I went for a scan to establish the gender of the baby I was carrying. Both of them turned out to be girls. Though I was happy with it, I kept on wondering what my in-laws would say about it. However, I didn’t let it bother me much till after I delivered,” she says.
“So far, nobody has questioned me on whether I am planning to have another baby to see if I will be blessed with a boy. However, I feel indirect pressure from my husband to try again for a boy,” says Chemutai.
Mary Amunga, 58, and a retired teacher alludes to the fact that for any mother, a daughter is not a burden, but for the family it is.
“As a woman, you will not feel the pressure that comes with the family wanting a particular sex of baby until you have experienced it first-hand,” says Mary.
Mary says she was worried after her third daughter was born.
“My hubby wanted an heir and felt that his daughters were not worth his fortunes. So when I conceived for the third time, I was afraid that it would end up being a girl. Hence I went for a scan and my gynaecologist confirmed my worst fears. I was carrying a girl,” she says.
“My in-laws were creating a lot of problems because I didn’t have a boy. They said it was all my fault I was having girls all the time and I felt the addition of another girl would just break my marriage altogether,” she says.
Thankfully, she now has five daughters and a son.
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