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Why parents kill their kids in Kenya

NAIROBI
By Standard Team | July 18th 2016

NAIROBI: Faced with the choice between her five-year old son and her husband, Alice Njoki, 27, sacrificed her baby.

On the night of June 26, 2009, Ms Njoki killed her son, Peter Mugo, reportedly to save her marriage to David Njoroge.

She claimed that she killed the boy born out of wedlock to rescue her one-year-old marriage.

During trial, the woman, a mother of a girl, entered a plea bargain to admit guilt for the murder for a lesser charge of manslaughter and subsequently was jailed, on September 5, 2013, for six years. 

Then High Court judge Nicholas Ombija said: “Having looked at the evidence, I agree that the accused was hiding the child from her husband. The discovery of the child caused friction with her husband. To stabilise the marriage, she killed the child.”

Murder convicts blame strained marriages, manipulation by lovers keen to eliminate a child born out of wedlock, poverty and evil spirits for killing their own children in a bid to escape the hangman’s noose, according to a review of court proceedings.

Psychologists warn that gruesome killings in families by parents turning against their children is an ultimate expression of emotional disorder.

University of Nairobi sociologist Octavia Gakuru explains that the deliberate act of a parent killing a child is more common than most people expect.

“What we need to observe is that such killings are on the rise and the reason is that the support system has broken down; both social and material support,” said Prof Gakuru.

Statistics on the killing of children by their parents are not readily available. But they are part of the worrying rise in homicide cases between 2008 and 2014. 

According to annual crime reports by the police and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, in 2008 alone, 2,037 homicide cases were reported, 2,218 in 2009, 2,239 in 2010, 2,641 (2011), 2,761 (2012), 2,878 (2013) and 2,649 cases in 2014.

In 2010 and 2011, 35 and 45 infanticide cases were reported respectively.

Killing of a child is described in three forms; neonaticide, a term that describes killing of an infant by its parents within 24 hours of birth, infanticide that involves parents killing a child less than one year and filicide, which is the killing of a child up to 18 years.

In some instances, occult practices and witchcraft have been blamed for the crimes.

On July 4 this year, a boda boda rider was said to have thrown the body of his five-month-old baby in a pit latrine, alleging his wife had bewitched him.

The 33-year-old man, from Bungoma County, reportedly killed the baby on the advice of a witchdoctor.

Bungoma Police Commander Charles Munyoli said the alleged witchdoctor was arrested and was helping police with investigations.

“You have an option of seeking the help of relatives, elders and church leaders instead of committing bizarre killings based on witchdoctors’ advice,” said Mr Munyoli.

On September 16, 2015 Mercy Kagwiria was handed a five-year jail term for killing her one-month-old baby.

Meru Chief Magistrate Evans Makori sentenced Ms Kagwiria after a probation report tabled in court indicated she was not suitable to serve a Community Service Order sentence.

Kagwiria shocked the court when she admitted killing her daughter, citing leading a miserable life with eight kids. The 35-year-old woman said she had opted to kill her new daughter, Mercy Mwende, after the man who impregnated her deserted her.

The State prosecutor told the court that Kagwiria strangled the minor on August 29, 2015, at Thiigu Village in Buuri sub-county.

The prosecution added that the minor’s body was found lying on a bed. A post-mortem report submitted in court pointed at possible strangulation.

Earlier, on February 3, 2012, Mercy Nyambura drowned her four-year-old daughter and tried to throw her six-year-old daughter in the river before attempting to commit suicide.

Swift action by neighbours saved Ms Nyambura and her daughter from the fast-flowing river at Kiamwangi village, Mathira East.

A series of misfortunes had befallen her and out of frustration, she decided to end her pain and suffering. Unfortunately, she was unable to share her problems with anyone, instead opting to end her and the children’s lives.

Curiously, Nyambura’s mother had summoned her to go and collect her daughters, who were staying with her since she (Nyambura) had relocated to Mombasa.

A day before, Nyambura had lost her job as a house help after her employer was transferred from the coastal town. As fate would have it, Nyambura had just discovered that she was pregnant and the boyfriend, who had promised to marry her, abandoned her and withdrew financial support.

On the fateful day, standing on the footbridge of the river, Nyambura threw her four-year-old daughter into the river but a passer-by alerted authorities. It was, however, too late for the little girl. Nyambura was arrested and charged with the murder of the minor.

She pleaded not guilty. Subsequently, her advocate and the State entered a plea agreement that was filed in court on February 3, 2012, whereby the charge was reduced to manslaughter. Nyeri Principal High Court judge James Wakiaga accepted the plea bargain, and she voluntarily admitted the charge of manslaughter.

She was convicted but the judge ordered a probation report be made available to assist him render a just sentence. The report, which was produced in court on May 3, 2012, recommended a non-custodial sentence.

In mitigation, the defense lawyer asked the court to give Nyambura a second chance.

“She is a beautiful young girl who to me seems a victim of her own beauty,” Justice Wakiaga said of the accused in his brief ruling delivered on July 17, 2012.

He pointed out: “To my mind, the accused person seems to be somebody who was out looking to be loved and to be taken care of but never found the right person to do that. I borrow the words of Jesus by telling the accused person ‘Go home but sin no more’.”

According to Gakuru, what the country is experiencing are social pathologies and abnormalities, which take very extreme forms.

Lawyer John Swaka agreed with the sociologist, noting that the numbers are rising.

“We need better intervention, social support and improved understanding of psychological and social factors that are often at play in parents’ lives,” Mr Swaka said.

He lauded the courts’ actions in handing heavy sentences to the offenders but recommended guidance and counselling for couples once their relation starts nose-diving.

Swaka avers that there is need to examine everything from the parent’s gender, age and marital status to where they lived to possible motives including a history of family violence in identifying strategies for prevention, particularly similarities and differences between mothers and fathers.

—Report by Kamau Muthoni, Fred Makana and Faith Karanja

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