What you need to know:
- Grandfather took the bizarre action after the baby's teen mother was rescued early marriage.
- The teenage student is said to have broken down uncontrollably when she learnt that her child was given away.
The friction between culture and child rights laws is nothing new. But giving away a one-year-old granddaughter to a man thought to be in his 50s to raise as a “future wife” is a shocking decision even for the most rooted of traditionalists.
In August, the authorities in Kajiado West arrested JS, an 80-year-old man, for forcing his Form Three daughter into marriage. The Sunday Nation cannot reveal the name the 80-year-old man to protect the identity of the teenager. The schoolgirl had got pregnant and bore a child with her secondary school boyfriend.
To cover what the family considered to be “shame”, she was made to drop out of school and be the fourth wife to KK, her father’s friend, from Ewaso Kedong in Kajiado West sub-county, who is thought to be in his 50s. The teenager would effectively be a stepmother to her secondary school age mates.
It was the collaboration by officers from the children’s and education departments that facilitated the girl’s rescue from her “matrimonial” home, alongside her one-year-old daughter.
As the teenager returned to school, the baby was placed in the custody of her grandmother, who is also JS’s younger wife, in Nkorkidinga village, Isinya.
JS, in a bizarre act of trying to “preserve” the broken marriage he arranged, took back the one-year-old to his friend KK. Family members, who spoke in confidence, told the Sunday Nation this was to “compensate” KK, who was to raise the one-year-old to be his wife in future if the teenage mother taken away by the authorities did not return.
Child rights activists say the bizarre incident would not have been possible without the bribery of local officials who they say have turned a blind eye to the betrothal of a one-year old despite protests by family members.
“When the granddaughter was returned, Mzee (JS) was livid. Early the next morning, he asked that the child be brought to a waiting family car to be taken to Kedong,” a family member said. He did not want to be named for fear of facing JS’s wrath. The Octogenarian is said to be a fierce man, laden with strong cultural disposition and feared by many, including the area chief, who is related to the old man.
This reporter got a taste of this wrath when she spoke to JS this week, in a difficult interview at the tail end of a month-long investigation.
“That night,” the source continued “the distraught child’s grandmother, who was deeply affected by her husband’s decision to return the child, fell ill as her ulcers worsened. She ended up hospitalised for several days.”
Back in school, the teenage student is said to have broken down uncontrollably when she learnt that her child was given away.
Sunday Nation embarked on a treacherous journey to find the minor in the interior of Ewaso Kedong. It’s a remote area where residents interact with elephants and other wild animals in the Maasai Mara ecosystem.
At KK’s homestead, two of his three wives and more than 10 children came out to meet us, but the man kept away. At first they were hostile and feigned ignorance about what we were looking for.
Later, they cooked up a story saying that the teenage student we were talking about was their sibling named Beatrice, who had been married off elsewhere and that upon returning home with her child, the government “abducted” her, never to be seen.
All the while, one of the wives was carrying the one-year-old. She even made the one-year-old to suckle in a bid to corroborate their story. The baby vomited immediately upon this attempt.
Efforts to speak to KK about the strange arrangement with his friend JC were unsuccessful. Not even follow-up phone calls were responded to.
Ewaso Kedong chief Moses Teeka said he was aware that the child was at KK’s home, but was not privy to the bizarre future marriage arrangement.
“I told him to return the (one-year-old) child to her grandmother. Give me time to enquire whether he did so,” he said on phone.
We also visited JS’s home several kilometres from Isinya town, but had to make a decision not to knock at his gate. Our sources advised that we approach the old man with caution.
“The moment you appear asking those questions, he will turn wild. He is a man who uses force and we all fear him. He has even kept his hair and beard long like a prophet,” he said.
The octogenarian often allegedly resorts to violence and our source reckoned that the teenage student’s mother would most likely be the subject of his aggression once we ask questions about her.
Calling him became the suitable option. Listening to his responses and choice of words validated our decision not to enter his compound. He was boiling with anger, wondering why a government, with no wife or children, was interfering with the running of his homestead and questioning his authority as the head of the family.
“It’s unforgivable for the government to remove my (teenage) daughter from her matrimonial home and take her to a place I don’t know. I am not a poor man. I have cows and was not unable to pay her school fees. Let them redirect her scholarship to needy children,” JS said.
He added that as long as his daughter remains in the hands of the authorities, the one-year-old granddaughter would stay in KK’s home. He has made the minor a symbol of strife in the family.
In a phone interview, Kajiado West Deputy County Commissioner Morekwa Moranga said he was unaware of the fact that JS had returned the child to Kedong. He asked for time to investigate, but a week later, he declined to respond to our inquiries.
We could not also independently verify claims that an administrator had been bribed with Sh30,000 and a goat to turn a blind eye to the matter as the fate of the one-year-old remained in limbo.