Nannies from hell

Housekeepers being taught how to effectively execute their duties. Brian Weke, a child activist and former manager at Cradle, a non-governmental children’s organisation, says cases of violent housekeepers have been on an alarming rise. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA |

What you need to know:

  • From breaking babies’ bones to pouring hot milk on them, to watching adult films in the presence of the minors and even breastfeeding them, many who have had to live with the small discomfort of having a stranger take care of their children have tales to tell.
  • Unfortunately, most such cases are hardly reported, either because grown up children are too afraid to speak up, or the young are too innocent they do not even know what is happening to them is wrong.
  • It is also important to encourage your older children to speak out in case of any unusual treatment from the housekeeper.

It was her first day back to work after a three-month maternity leave, and she had spent the previous week making sure that her three-month old son would be comfortable at home once she reported back work.

Housekeepers. Check. Adequate supply of milk for baby. Check. A home phone in case of emergency. Check. Everything was going according to plan — or so she thought.

Esther Omondi, then a young 24-year-old mother who had just had her first baby, was not prepared for the horror that she would have to deal with in the next couple of months, courtesy of the housekeeper.

The woman she paid Sh4,000 a month to take care of her toddler; the woman she fed, housed and even clothed just to keep her comfortable, was about to become her biggest nightmare.

On the evening of December 1, 2009, Esther walked into her house in Nyeri, eager to hold her son and breastfeed him.

But, where she had looked forward to some cuddly time with her bundle of joy, she was welcomed home with a sharp, piercing scream from her three-month baby; a scream too guttural, too raucous for a such a young child.

“I asked the housekeeper what was wrong with my baby,” Esther remembers, “and she told me he was probably having a stomach ache, and that she had given the baby gripe water to calm him down.

Sensing something was not right with the baby, I went to the bedroom and undressed him, and that’s when I noticed something was amiss with his right leg.”

FRUCTURED THIGH BONE
Esther says that her baby’s right leg “hung awkwardly”, as if it was broken. She asked the housekeeper if she had noticed anything wrong with the baby, and the girl said no, all had been okay all day.

Shocked and angered to the core, Esther rushed the baby to Outspan Hospital.

It was probably the longest ride to hospital she will ever have to endure, and, while she knew for sure that something was wrong with the baby, nothing could have prepared her to what the paediatrician told her, not even the constant, eerie wails of the baby.

“The doctor told me that my son had a compound fracture on the femur (thigh bone),” says Esther. “He was also shocked, saying he had never treated a baby for such an injury.

“It was bad. I cried the entire night as doctors prepared my baby for surgery. From that day, at three months, the baby completely refused to breastfeed because I think the trauma was too much for him.”

So, how did Esther’s three month-old baby fracture his thigh bone? As Esther would later discover, the housekeeper had confided in a neighbour’s maid that she had “accidentally” sat on the baby.

“My issue was that she was never truthful with me. It is better for someone to tell you that your child accidentally ingested bleach so that you can know exactly what to do. She didn’t tell me anything. She just stuck to her story that she thought the baby had a stomach ache.”

DISTURBING VIDEO
The baby remained with a cast on his right thigh for the entire month of December 2009. The injury, fortunately, healed and the baby is fine, but the emotional wounds still fester within the mother.

“From that day on, I have never trusted housekeeper. I sack them at the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing,” she says.

We caught up with Esther in the wake of one of the most traumatising videos ever posted on the Internet — and there is a lot of sickening stuff on the Net; from war footage to accidents caught on camera to terrorists playing the fright card.

Over the weekend, a one-year-old Ugandan girl got the entire world talking after an unsettling video showed a barbaric housekeeper meting out violence on the helpless tot.

The two-minute video begins with the housekeeper impatiently feeding the baby.

Visibly irritated, the woman forces a spoonful of baby food into the baby’s mouth, barking fiercely at the child to gobble up the food.

For a few seconds, the housekeeper looks like she has given up on the baby and indolently eats the baby’s food as she watches what sound like a Nigerian movie on television.
FORCE-FEEDING
The baby, her tummy probably upset by the force-feeding accompanied by slapping, just sits there, whimpering in terror but unable to run away from her tormentor. She is, after all, just a year old.

And then, out of the blue, the baby opens up her mouth a throws a jet of vomit onto the floor. Her stomach cannot handle it, and she can’t control the reflex.

The housekeeper sighs, takes a breath and, as if gathering strength to fight a rancorous enemy, tightens her murderous muscles.

In a fit of rage, she grabs the baby, who is still sitting quietly on a sofa, and throws her to the floor.

The housekeeper then grabs what looks like a rechargeable torch and metes her hellish wrath on the helpless child at her feet, who is now screaming at the top of her voice.

The househelp, her craving for violence momentarily satiated, steps away from the baby.

And then, to the horror of many who have had the misfortune of watching the video clip, she steps on the baby’s back and tries to balance her adult body on the feeble frame of a one-year-old, who is now lying prostrate on the floor.

HOUSEHELP CHARGED
Most people say they turned away from their phones at this point. Because it is just too heart-wrenching to continue watching, but more horror lies a few seconds away, especially where the woman, done with stepping on the child, kicks her on the ribs and sends her crashing against a sofa, where the terrified baby lies facedown — tortured, exhausted, motionless, and unnervingly quiet.

The video ends when the woman grabs the child and disappears beyond the camera’s view.

The housekeeper from hell, identified days later as — hold your breath — Jolly Tumuhirwe, is a 22-year-old employed to take care of the baby in the Kiwatule suburb of Kampala, Uganda.

The baby’s father, Eric Kamanzi, reported the incident on November 13 at Kiwatule Police Post after viewing the footage of a CCTV camera he had installed in the house when he suspected something foul happened whenever the housekeeper was left alone with the baby.

The maid was charged with torture under Section 3 of the Anti-Torture Act and remanded in Luzira Prison.

However, following the uproar, both online and offline, police have sought advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Uganda to amend the charge to attempted murder, which is punishable with a life sentence.

The househelp is set to appear in court again on December 8.

BABY INFECTED
But that is just one housekeeper who was caught savagely treating a helpless child, and the question here is; how many other such incidents go unreported and undetected, either because the parents cannot afford to install surveillance cameras at home, or because they are too engrossed with other stuff to notice that their babies are unwell?

From breaking babies’ bones to pouring hot milk on them, to watching adult films in the presence of the minors and even breastfeeding them, many who have had to live with the small discomfort of having a stranger take care of their children have tales to tell.

Ms Muia — or, as the neighbourhood calls her, Mama Junior (she requested that we do not disclose her full name) — is a mother of two, and she shudders every time she recalls the drama and trauma a housekeeper once took her through.

Her younger child was only one-year-old when she contracted what looked like an infection in her private parts. The doctors were astounded and demanded to know why the mother was not exercising hygiene in bathing the child.

“Like a good mother, I had a specific basin that I used to wash the baby,” says Mama Junior. “She was always in a clean nappy and I wondered how she had contracted the infection.”

One day, when Mama Junior was cleaning her house, she moved the wardrobe... and got the shock of her life.

“The housekeeper had hidden some of the babies’ nappies that she had used as sanitary towels. Some were clean and others still soiled, I was disgusted.”

The scales had finally fallen off Mama Junior’s eyes and it all made sense why her baby had an “adult infection”.

Turns out the housekeeper, instead of buying herself sanitary towels, would improvise and use the baby’s nappies as sanitary towels. She would then wash them and use the same nappies on the baby.

That is how Mama Junior’s little girl contracted a venereal disease.
VIOLENT CAREGIVERS
It also turned out that the housekeeper had been violent towards the little girl whenever her elder brother, Junior, was away at school. When prodded over why she behaved that way, the housekeeper was not short of answers.

“She said the reason why she beat my child was that I used to delay her salary, so she vented her anger on my child.

For some reason, she never believed me when I told her that her salary got delayed because mine was delayed too and my husband’s business was not doing so well. Eventually, she had to leave,” says Mama Junior.

Brian Weke, a child activist and former manager at Cradle, a non-governmental children’s organisation, says cases of violent housekeeper have been on an alarming rise, and that Cradle also receives complaints of HIV+ housekeeper breastfeeding their employer’s children. Other children are also sexually molested by their care givers.

“Section B of the Children’s Act states that a child should be protected from all forms of abuse,” says Weke, “while Article 53 of the Constitution protects children from any form of abuse, including physical and sexual forms.”

The Penal Code also provides for punishment against child assault and is categorical that anyone causing grievous bodily harm against a child should be jailed.

UNREPORTED CASES

Unfortunately, most such cases are hardly reported, either because grown up children are too afraid to speak up, or the young are too innocent they do not even know what is happening to them is wrong.

So, how do you mitigate the abuse? The first step, according to Weke, is to be proactive in selecting your help. If possible, interview the housekeeper first, and “fathers should also be part of that interview”.

“You can easily pick out some bad personality traits from the first interview,” Weke advises.

Parents are also advised to invest in good CCTV cameras, or “nanny cams”, to monitor the housekeeper’s behaviour.

It is also important to encourage your older children to speak out in case of any unusual treatment from the housekeeper.

“Teach them the difference between a right touch and a wrong one. Ask them questions and always encourage them to talk to you,” says Weke.

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