Rose Shimoli, 49, is in turmoil. She stares at the portrait of her late daughter Ruth Nekesa at Kaunda village in Kakamega County.
Nekesa, 15, committed suicide last week, leaving her parents devastated. The Form One student took her life after she was scolded for getting involved with boys.
Her fresh grave remains a stark reminder to Shimoli of what life would have been and the unmet expectations she had in Nekesa.
Every day her regrets compound. The warnings she gave her daughter moments before her death remain fresh in her mind; like a fresh wound.
Shimoli tries to compose herself as she fields questions during this interview. Her wish is to erase the pain from her heart. She struggles to speak in a small, faltering voice, with tears welling up in her eyes. The loss is too painful to bear.
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“A neighbour informed me about my daughter’s unbecoming behaviours. She had allegedly been caught with boys in a house. Together with my husband, we reprimanded Nekesa. She got annoyed to the extent of committing suicide.”
According to Shimoli, all she wanted was to correct her daughter “who was bright in class and much disciplined.”
Nekesa’s lifeless body was found in her parents’ house by a neighbour.
Preliminary reports by officers who arrived at the scene indicated that she had consumed an unknown chemical substance.
Many other parents from the county shares Shimoli’s predicament.
At Lwesero village in Lurambi, a body of a man was found dangling from the roof of a building under construction.
Simon Kilonzo, a Kakamega-based businessman, was said to have committed suicide after frequent squabbles with his wife over claims of infidelity and money theft. This culminated into a fight.
Kilonzo, who owned a wine and spirit shop in the town, hanged himself after he realised his wife had collected some money from the shop.
Neigbours claimed the man had a fight with his wife moments before his death.
Shiyunzu assistant Chief Phoebe Andati said the couple had separated for months before they reunited.
In another incident, a Form Three student at St Kizito Lusumu in Navakholo jumped to her death in River Lusumu after her parents rebuked her for bringing shame to the family.
Leah Nafula, 17, was at pains to explain circumstances under which she was impregnated. She could not reveal the man responsible for her three-month-old pregnancy. She opted to kill herself when she could not stand the pressure.
“I decided to discipline her after realising she was pregnant, oblivious of what would follow,” said her mother.
Between May and June, Kakamega has registered at least 50 per cent rise in suicide cases compared to similar time the previous year.
Statistics captured from cases that were reported at Kakamega police station paint a grim picture of the situation.
The data indicates that 11 cases were reported in that period this year, compared to five reported within same period last year.
Kakamega County Police Commander Hassan Barua says most cases go unreported.
According to Barua, the last one month saw at least 19 defilement cases involving children aged between five and 17 reported at the police station, while 11 gender-based violence cases were captured in the same period.
Lukoye Atwoli, a psychiatrist and expert in epidemiology of trauma and post-traumatic stress, says the government ought to roll out a mental health campaign in all the counties to address the issue.
Atwoli says the control measures in place to fight coronavirus have drawn many people away from their social support system, causing them to struggle to acclimatise with the changes. “The cases are not surprising, people are depressed. Many are struggling to adapt to the new way of life. This piles a lot of pressure on them,” he says.
Atwoli agrees that the unreported cases of suicide may be higher than those known, noting there are families that opt to keep quiet fearing stigma.
“Even when schools reopen, many learners will struggle to cope. This is why we have been pushing them to roll out mental health programmes in counties to address the issue.”