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Rejected at birth: Curse of being born out of incest

WESTERN
By Robert Amalemba | April 19th 2021
Peggy Angaya at Bukura Springs of Life rescue center, April 17, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The joy of a woman who had just delivered at a public hospital in Mumias was cut short by a chilling ultimatum from her relatives; she had to throw the baby away.

“You will have to throw that thing (baby) in the sugarcane plantations immediately you’re discharged or we will kill it,” one of them told her.

The blunt remark keeps ringing in her mind, yet it has been a month since she had the baby.

As misplaced as it may sound, the ultimatum was obvious to the 26-year-old mother, her relatives wanted the child dead because it was a “product of incest”.

They (relatives) had tried to convince her to abort the pregnancy months after they got wind that a close relative was responsible for it, but she declined. 

“Someone at the hospital located at Jumuiya in Mumias town alerted me about this case and I was there in good time to save the poor baby,” says Peggy Angaya of Springs of Life Child Rescue Centre in Lurambi Sub-county.

Ms Angaya knows the importance of acting in haste in such cases. She also knows abandoning or killing a child is a capital offence. Her experience in Kisumu, Vihiga, and Kakamega County has taught her many things.

“On the few occasions, the country’s laws clash with taboos on this side of the divide, and the latter triumphs. Some cultures allow the disposal of children born out of incest in bushes. It has happened before,” she says as she cuddles the child who is five weeks at the rescue centre.

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Peggy Angaya. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Statistics of children who suffer the consequences of incest remain elusive but the County Children Officer Richard Masika once estimated that five children born out of incest are dumped at the county’s referral hospital every month.

Isaac Misikote, an elder, tells The Standard that a child born out of incest brings what in the Luhya culture is called Luswa “taboo”.

He says in the olden days the children were not “allowed anywhere around their mother’s breast” because that would amount to accepting a curse in the home where they were born.

The children were thrown away or handed to strangers as a way of evicting them from society.

“The good thing is that we now have a cure to the curse of incest in herbs (Lunyasi). All that the incest pair needs to do is drink and birth their baby with it to exorcise the curse,” he says. “You either use the Lunyasi or live with the child as a taboo.”

Simon Lirhu, a Luhya elder, says issues touching on incestuous sex were handled discreetly in the past to restore the reputation of those involved.

Only clan elders were informed and could handle the matters whenever such cases arose according to mzee Lirhu.

Section 4(1) of the Children Act provides that every child shall have an inherent right to life and shall be the responsibility of the government and the family to ensure the survival and development of the child.

Peggy Angaya. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The Act also protects the child from harmful cultural rites, customs, or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect his life, dignity, or physical/psychosocial development.

A sociologist Allan Odhiambo has dealt with a number of incest cases in the course of his duty in western Kenya and believes that the best person to take care of their child is its biological parent.

“Sex has consequences; in Kenya, an incest convict is liable to imprisonment for five years up to life in the event he or she committed the offence with a minor. If one sleeps with a close relative he or she must be ready to bear the consequences,” says the social scientist.

He admits that the culture of dumping children born out of incest has been on the decline and attributes it to modernity, Christianity, and strong laws guarding children.

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