Drugged, raped, imprisoned by ‘husband’, suing maternity hospital – who’s accountable for Kenyan woman’s plight?
When I told a friend about a landmark case where two poor Kenyan women were suing the government for illegally detaining them in a maternity hospital for failing to pay their bills, he said, half in jest: ‘But they had nine months to save for it didn’t they?”
A fair point some might think.
But it also reveals the gaping chasm between the rich and the poor – not just economic, but in our ability to comprehend one another’s life experiences.
Take Margaret, one of the petitioners, who was first detained when she was 15-years-old and unable to pay for her Caesarean section.
The most poignant part of her story is not the abuse meted out to her by the medical staff or the fact that they accidentally left a pair of scissors in her womb.
It is her back story. How did she get there?
Margaret had been drugged, raped, held hostage and impregnated by a man that she still calls her ‘husband’.
Her father died when she was very young and her mother sent her, at the age of nine, to work as a househelp for a relative in Nairobi.
“That auntie really tortured me,” said Margaret, now aged 35.
“She’d cook for herself, her husband and her children. I’d be in the kitchen washing utensils. If there were any leftovers, that’s what I’d eat. She starved me.”
When Margaret was 14, she decided to run away. Another girl said she would help her earn money to travel home to her mother.
Her friend took her to a man’s house. When dusk fell, the girl and her boyfriend said they were going to the shop. Margaret was left with the owner of the house who was a middle-aged man.
“I was very stupid. I didn’t understand about men,” she said.
He refused to allow her to leave.
The man bought her a soda and locked her in his bedroom. The drink was laced with some kind of drug and she soon fell asleep in a chair.
“When I woke up, I was shocked. I was in the man’s bed and I was naked. Blood was coming out down below,” she recalled.
Margaret started crying and begged to be taken to hospital. But the man kept her locked in his bedroom with a plastic bucket to use as a toilet.
“The third day, the man told me: ‘You are my wife. The blood that was coming out is because you are my wife,’” she said.
Margaret soon fell pregnant but her childish body was too small to give birth normally. A local clinic referred her to Pumwani Maternity Hospital for a Caesarean.
She was detained for 12 days until her ‘husband’ raised the money to pay the bill and took her ‘home’.
Margaret spent eight years with her abuser and bore him four children. Whenever she suggested using family planning, he threatened to kill her.
Over the years, he became increasingly violent. At the age of 23, she eventually summoned up the courage to run away with the children.
Today, she struggles to make a living washing people’s clothes and plaiting hair in a Nairobi slum.
Margaret may be suing the government and the hospital for what the Center for Reproductive Rights – the US-based lobby group which is representing her – calls “an egregious violation” of her rights.
But her life story is one long tale of rights violations, of which, being detained in hospital is surely not the worst.
What about a child’s right to education? To food? To live with her parents? To protection from sexual exploitation?
She has no one to sue for that.