Fatuma Abdullahi was 18 when she fell in love with an equally young man, who later became her husband.
But unknown to the mother of six from Wabera Ward in Isiolo County, the then-28-year-old military man would later become a monster, a red flag she had noticed but overlooked while they lived together in Nairobi after moving from Isiolo.
“Even before my parents died, he would beat me up, but I never thought it would become a habit. I was hesitant to travel [to Nairobi] at first because my mother, living with a disability, needed special care but she allowed me to leave,” she says.
The 46-year-old, who got married in 1993, says she has never had peace with her children’s father.
We catch up with her while she is looking for an affordable rental room on the outskirts of Isiolo town, for her and her children. She is set to reconstruct her ‘broken’ life and start afresh. “I do not want to be killed in that house in the name of love and marriage,” she quickly says.
Besides turning her into a punching bag, he never provides for the family, forcing her to solely toil to provide for her children, including their school fees. “Sometimes I sleep hungry because the food is only enough for the children. All these marks you see [on my body] have been inflicted by him,” she says.
Apart from descending on her with blows and kicks, the violent husband, she says, also hits her with crude weapons, including rungu (club) and panga, sometimes in the presence of the children. The frequent violence has seen her admitted several times to local hospitals over health complications such as hypertension.
Four years ago, while her daughter was sitting KCPE examination, she was admitted to hospital after collapsing following a beating by her husband, who took an early retirement from the forces.
“I was admitted for several days and it hurt me that I did not go to pick my daughter after she completed the exam,” she recalls.
Keen not to expose her children to emotional torture, she mastered the art of lying.
“I get beaten up any time and they (children) will find me with dents on my face, but I lie to them that I fell down and got injured. If the roof over the house [we lived in] would open up and share what I have gone through, you would understand the pain I have in my heart,” Fatuma tells Saturday Nation.
Asked whether she would want the husband arrested and prosecuted for the violence, Fatuma objects, saying peace is all she wants.
“I do not want my children to blame me for having their father arrested and maybe jailed. I do not want anything from him. I only want him to stay away from us. I will let God deal with him for the suffering he has exposed me to for three decades,” Fatuma says, maintaining that her decision will not be compromised by elders.
Unlike other women who choose to walk out of abusive marriages, she initially opted to stay on after her previous attempts to run away with the children were thwarted by elders, who forced her back into the home and insisted she persevere and submit to her husband.
Five months ago, she reported the husband to police for threatening to hack her to death. He was arrested but later released after elders intervened and begged her to drop the case. Amid the suffering and embarrassment, she still chose to persevere and defend him.
“I would not want my children, four girls and two boys, to know that their father is a beast because it would affect their lives and perception towards marriage. I have to be strong for them,” Fatuma says.
“I have been relying on friends and well-wishers to pay their fees because the little I get from casual jobs is barely enough for food. I am overwhelmed because the girl in Class Eight will join Form One next year.”
She was recently kicked out of the house and forced to spend the night in the cold with her children.
After having previously failed to secure her freedom, heartbroken Fatuma believes this is the opportune time to save her life and that of the children. Fatuma now appeals to leaders and well-wishers to help her educate her children and get her a job to provide for her family.
Human rights activist Anab Kassim says GBV cases in Isiolo have increased during Covid-19 era, with most victims being women. Ms Kassim says cases of men beating up and even killing their lovers were previously unheard of in the region but have become common lately. “GBV cases have resulted in a surge in child neglect, prostitution, school dropouts and early marriages,” she says.
The activist laments lengthy referral pathways and lack of safe centres, a situation that denies victims justice.
Lack of women representation in elders’ mediation sittings also hampers justice delivery to women. Ms Kassim advises couples against overstaying in violent marriages as one’s “mental health and wellbeing surpasses marriage”.