Young, widowed and poor: Meet wives of hardcore criminals

By - Sep 19th 2023

Even though she knew her husband was a criminal, Sharon’s love for her man was irresistible despite his dark side. Jonte, as she fondly remembers him, was charming, caring, and dependable - attributes that cemented the relationship.

Now widowed with two kids, Sharon lost her husband three years ago. Jonte, 21, succumbed to police bullets in Mathare slums. According to the 23-year-old, had the police spared Jonte, perhaps her husband could be alive and reformed. “They resorted to extra-judicial killing instead and now here I am widowed at a very young age,” says Sharon.

Sharon found herself in the family way after her desire to pursue education was nipped in the bud. The girl never completed primary education because of poverty. Eventually, the daughter of a single mother trafficked drugs to make ends meet in the harsh terrains of Mathare's slum life.

Dealing with drugs became a full-time business, and before long, Sharon met Jonte. One thing led to another, and a young naive girl soon found herself in bed with Jonte at the age of 14 years.

“He was a fine, polite man with few words. His charm swept me off my feet. Jonte lived in our neighborhood and he was our number one customer at my mother’s shop. He could come to my mother’s shop and leave me with some extra cash. Through his generosity, I fell in love, and within a short period of time, I was expectant,” narrates Sharon.

I watched as my husband was killed near our house

A year later, Sharon discovered her husband was a hardcore criminal who owned a gun. But there was no turning back at this point - she was deeply in love and married.

“I didn’t want to disappoint my husband or risk my family.  I knew if I quit, he might turn against my family,” says Sharon, who lost her husband two months to maternity to deliver their twins.

“I was widowed at 19 and the most painful part is that I watched as my husband was killed near our house. He pleaded to the officers but they could hear none of his pleas. One of them pointed a gun at his head and released the bullet. I even had a splash of his blood on me. I held my husband’s lifeless body and screamed as the cops slowly walked away,” she recalls.

Sharon never recovered from the incident. “What she witnessed affected her deeply. Since then she’s ever temperamental and full of vengeance. I had to take full custody of her babies because I’m not sure of her next plan,” says her mother.

Living in the crowded Mathare slums with her parent, Sharon is the firstborn of five siblings being raised by their single mother who had the best expectations from her children.

But life took a turn for the worse after Sharon, the beacon of hope for the family, found herself in the arms of a criminal.

Prostitution and drug trafficking

“Raising two kids without a job is a hurdle. Life became tough until I found myself in prostitution and drug trafficking. At 23, I can confirm to you that I have slept with several men. I’m even ashamed of mentioning this but what could I have done? I wanted a good life for my babies and my mother is already overburdened,” she says, laying bare challenges confronting young women in informal settlements.

For instance, in the neigbouring Korogocho slums, 22-year-old Sherleen Nyambura found herself in a similar predicament.

Born and raised in the labyrinth that is Korogcho, Sherleen got married at the tender age of 16. But as fate would have it, she was soon widowed.

The man she knew as her husband was actually a wanted criminal living on borrowed time. The man was killed by police somewhere in Kiambu County, and just like that, Sherleen’s life crumbled like a pack of cards.

When her partner was shot dead, Sherleen was expectant. The second born in a family of four, Sherleen dropped out of Daniel Komboni primary school and ventured into Dandora dumpsite for scavenging.

It is here that she met her future husband she describes as a nice guy. “He used to visit the dumpsite but at first I had no clue he was a wanted armed robber. He was so nice to me and being naïve and desperate for a better life; he convinced me to be his wife promising to provide everything for my family,” says Sherleen.

After two months of courtship, the two got married starting a family that unfortunately did not last long. For the few months the marriage lasted, the man kept to his word by ensuring Sherleen’s relatives never lacked. She was already pregnant when the man was killed.

Raising my unborn child

“One of his friends who survived the bullets came back and notified me about his death and that’s how I became a widow with no hope of raising my unborn child,” she recounts.

For a short stint after delivery, she lived with her mother but moved away after they differed. Desperate, lonely, and at a crossroads, Sherleen becomes a stripper at a local pub.

It is while plying this trade that she met a diverse group of women, all from different walks of life but bonded by their shared struggles. They became her second family, offering support and guidance she had never expected.

Sherleen discovered that many of these women had once shared her dreams but had been forced by circumstances to take a different path.

Over time, Sherleen used her newfound connections and resources to acquire new skills. She dropped stripping and started a small business of selling footwear, but the hustle has not been without its share of challenges and setbacks.

With time, the mother of two believes that her story will inspire thousands of young disadvantaged women and bring change within Korogocho.

As Sherleen tries to shed off her past, Sharon has joined the Remnants Family Ministry where reformed sex workers and drug addicts meet for solace.

Reformed sex worker

Jane Muhia, a pastor and founder of the ministry, is a reformed sex worker who understands the dynamics of slum life and the importance of sharing motherly love in such communities. 

Her ministry came after a series of deaths and denial and it's there that she thought of saving the young generation which so trapped in crime and sex work. Having first-hand experience Jane's life is unforgiving in informal settlements. 

Jane was a hooker for seven years, a job she started at a tender age having lost her husband to crime. But she turned over a new leaf founding the church where young widows who suffer in silence find comfort and hope.

“These girls are deeply grieved, and the only way of healing them is showing them love by sharing the little that I get. Most of them didn’t understand what they were getting into. Personally, if I had someone to guide me, probably I couldn’t have ended up as a hooker,” says Jane revealing that girls as young as 13 are parents in slums.

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