Written by Eric Dumo - Punch, Nigeria
|Raped, impregnated and abandoned|
Morenike (not real name) sat at a corner of the expansive compound; away from where the other girls were converged, flicking her eyes from side to side as she took deep breaths occasionally. The scotching rays from the sun pounding furiously on her frail frame on the wooden bench where she sat seemed to compound her misery. At only 19, she has seen enough trouble to last an entire lifetime. First raped several times and impregnated by her father at 16, before suffering a similar fate two years later at the hands of another man, the young woman is indeed bleeding from all sides. Morenike's agony is without measure.
"I used to live with my mother and her husband before she died," the petite-looking teenager began, growing increasingly restless as she narrated her heart-wrenching story. "So I was forced to go back to my biological father at Ebutte Meta in Lagos when my mother died. After some time I noticed he (my father) would buy a particular kind of tea whenever he was returning home in the evening and mandate me to drink it after which I would sleep off till the next morning. The first time I drank the tea, I noticed blood on my private part and thighs but I thought it was menstruation. But after some time I started noticing that whenever I drank the tea and slept off, by the next morning I would feel very weak especially around my waist and pelvic."
The pains were not ordinary. Later becoming suspicious of her father, Morenike decided to share her experience with a classmate in school who in turn informed a female teacher. Alarmed, the teacher told the 19-year-old to be more vigilant and try not to sleep too deep the next time her father forces her to drink the 'tea'. What she experienced that night still shocks her.
"He thought I had slept off as usual that night after taking the tea he usually gives me to drink. He had removed my skirt and panties and had wanted to penetrate when I held him back. I was really shocked. He threatened that if I struggled with him, he would kill me and that if I ever told anyone, he would make me run mad because he is a member of the Odua's Peoples Congress in our area and he had a lot of charms. None of our neighbours knew what I was passing through even though it was a face-me-I-face-you compound.
"After two days, I reported the matter to my teacher in school and my father was arrested by some government officials from the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. It was after some tests were conducted on me that it was discovered that I was already a few weeks pregnant. I was taken to a Home in Ayobo area where I stayed until I gave birth. The baby was taken to an orphanage while my father was sentenced to six months imprisonment," she explained.
While at the rehabilitation home in Ayobo, more problems crept into Morenike's life. A male inmate at the facility for the homeless and needy where they stayed who had been pretending to share in her pains forced his way in-between her legs. A second pregnancy in three years popped up. The young man whom she identified as Jude and whom she described as being responsible for her pregnancy, had never been seen till date. It was salt on an already bleeding wound.
"Jude always came around me to check how I was getting over the experience with my father and carrying on with a new life. But I never knew he had ulterior motives and was planning on how to rape me. Immediately he succeeded and got me pregnant, he ran away from the home we were staying at Ayobo. It was after that period that officials of WAPA took me away from the place and brought me to Ozanam House in Ikeja.
"The second baby is a little over a year now and like the first child who is in the orphanage; there is no father to take care of him too. Whenever I think about this, it really breaks my heart because how can I explain to him in future or the first child how they came about.
"Anytime I see any man the age of my father, I run away from such place because it reminds me of all that he did to me. I wish I never had a father," she said, fighting back emotions while another girl her age who had been following her conversation with our correspondent came to console her. The sight would melt even a steel heart.
Like Morenike, many of the other girls at Ozanam House, a home established and operated by a women arm of the Catholic Church in Lagos where the needy, emotionally and psychologically brutalised young ladies are rehabilitated and given hope in the heart of Lagos, share similar experiences. While some were impregnated through rape, the others were denied and abandoned by persons they trusted and lived their lives for, the moment they became expectant mothers. The shame, stigma and depression they have suffered is nothing compared to having children who might never grow up knowing their real fathers, many of the ladies told our correspondent. Apart from attempting suicide on more than one occasion, the young women say their lives are devoid of happiness. The reporter was only given permission to speak with the girls after he accepted not to disclose their real identities for fear of rejection.
Amarachi was a happy mother and wife until tragedy struck a few months ago. Married in 2011 at 20 to her bricklayer husband with whom she lived with in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, she had a baby the following year, capping off her first year under Tochukwu, her hubby's roof, in remarkable fashion. But calamity soon set in and what began as a promising start in matrimony soon fizzled into thin air, bringing darkness into a once happy home. Today, Amarachi lives in perpetual pains, wishing she could disappear from the face of the earth.
"My husband had gone to work in Ilorin, Kwara State and was returning to Lagos when he and a colleague were arrested by the police. No reason was given for his arrest and he has been at SARS in Lagos since 2012.
"As a result of this, life became very difficult for me and our child after he was arrested so I had to struggle and look for a job to survive. I later got a supermarket attendant job at Lekki and was going from Ikorodu to the place every day.
"But one night while I was walking home, I noticed a guy trailing me and as I tried to walk faster as there was no commercial motorcycle in sight, his steps also increased. Before I knew what was happening, he had descended on me, pinned me to the ground and raped me. It was after I started feeling sick and visited the hospital a few days later that I was informed I was pregnant. There is nothing in this world that I didn't try to do to remove this pregnancy. But the more effort I made, the more I was warned of losing my life if I tried aborting it.
"My husband is locked up at SARS and now I am carrying a rapist's baby, don't you see that I am doomed? Though, my in-laws are aware of the situation, I feel like killing myself. How can I give birth to a child who might never grow up knowing his real father? My life is at a standstill at the moment," she said.
Seven-month pregnant Ebube's unborn child might also grow up not knowing a father. Though, not raped, the young man who put her in the family way denied ever knowing her and had since fled their Berger, Lagos neighbourhood after she informed him of her condition at the initial stages. Efforts to locate him and make him take responsibility for his action have proved daunting so far. Uncertain of what the future holds for her and the unborn baby, the young woman had contemplated suicide on several occasions. Even under the watchful eyes and counselling of spiritual leaders at the sprawling rehabilitation home, the 23-year-old's thoughts are never far from taking a crazy step.
"There is no day that I don't think of taking my life," she says, repeating it several times as if to convince our correspondent of how serious and determined she was. "There is no use staying alive and suffering with a child that has no father. The guy who got me pregnant denied ever knowing me after I informed him about the situation. He has since run away from the area we used to live together at Akiode in Berger. My friend whom I was squatting with threw me out two months later because she said she could not accommodate me and the pregnancy. It was through the help of a priest in the church I was attending that I was brought to Ozanam House.
"I ask myself all the time who the father of this child I am carrying would be. It is a question I am yet to find answers to. On several occasions I had locked myself up in the room and cried all day, thinking several bad things in my head including ending my own life. Only God can heal the pains I am passing through at the moment," she said.
Morenike, Amarachi and Ebube are not the only girls at the House faced with an uncertain future after being impregnated through rape or denied and abandoned by the men whom they trusted and gave their bodies - three other young ladies between the ages of 15 and 22 also share similar fate. For them, the male gender now has a new definition - cruel and heartless. Many of them said that the sight of a man now irritates them especially after all they have been made to pass through.
Head of Ozanam House, Sister Stella Mbanu, explained that but for their vigilance, many of the brutalised young ladies could have resorted to extreme measures in responding to their pains. She said many of the girls as a result of what they had experienced could need more than just six months rehabilitation to pull through and get back on their feet.
"We get happy when we receive clients and we are able to tidy up their cases very well by hitting at reconciliation and reintegration. But it becomes worrisome when those responsible for sexual abuses are from the girls' families. It makes things really difficult because it is tough reconciling fathers with daughters who a child stands in between.
"In fact we have had cases of stepfathers and stepbrothers raping their stepdaughters and stepsisters, even uncles abusing their nieces. It is shameful because culturally, this is a taboo capable of shattering an entire family and even a community. It is a problem that could cause pains to several generations to come as a result of identity crisis that might result from there. Children can use it to taunt those affected once they find out about it.
"Ozanam House is a transit point where the victims, mostly girls in this category, are rehabilitated for six months after which they are allowed to go back home or to their relations. But the cases we have at hand are beyond six months. We have a girl with us who had been here since she was in SS3 and now she is about graduating from the university. She ran away from home after her uncle tried to rape her. The pain of being abused, impregnated and abandoned breaks the hearts of many of these girls and I think the society must begin to critically address some of these issues," she said.
Sociologist, Hakeem Essien, says children born out of rape and those whose fathers failed to acknowledge or be a part of their lives could end up harming the society in the long run as a way of repudiation. He said the situation if not critically addressed by the society could lead to the emergence of an entire generation who could live with rejection and identity crisis all their lives.
"Incest and rape is going to ruin the society because the number of children originating from such atrocities is alarming. Mothers must pay special attention to their female children because we live in a terrible age and time.
"Children born out of rape and even those whose fathers denied their pregnancies and were never part of their lives could as a way of getting back at the society that has subjected them to rejection and emotional trauma, turn to anti-social behaviours like crimes just to express their frustration.
"One of the ways I think the society can battle some of these problems is for young boys and girls to have proper education and orientation. The adults must be good examples to the young ones and lead them in the right path. The moment the right values are driven into these young boys and girls, they would grow up leading good lives and not causing problems for their future. Everybody has a role to play in the society including the government," he said.
Psychologist, Buchi Anyamele, said that conceiving through rape or carrying an unwanted pregnancy could have adverse mental effect on the mother and child. He said scars inflicted on victims through these means is usually hard to heal.
"For a mother who raises a rape-conceived child or a child whose pregnancy was not accepted by the person responsible, both the traumatic effect of the rape and rejection and the child's blood relationship to the rapist and culprit can create significant psychological problems for both her and the baby. If a woman decides to keep and raise such a child, she may have difficulty accepting it while in some societies, both could face ostracism. It is a very terrible situation to be in and has adverse effects for the child's development," he said.
In 2013, the National Population Commission estimated that there would be at least 60 million teenage pregnancies by 2015 in Nigeria. This followed a surge in births among young ladies in the country in 2008 where girls between 15 and 19 accounted for 121 from every 1, 000 live births - the highest in Africa at the time.
In a recent interview, Chairman, Technical Management Team of the NPC, Dr. Festus Uzo, revealed that teenage pregnancy had turned a menace in Nigeria.
"About 16 million girls aged between 15 and 19 years and two million girls under the age of 15 give birth every year, worldwide. And within this statistics, about 50,000 teenage girls die in Nigeria every year as a result of complications from pregnancy.
"With a reproductive system not yet ready for the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth, teenage girls are prone to death in the labour room and sometimes subjected to a life of pain and anguish in the clutches of Vesico-Vaginal Fistula," he said.
A medical practitioner, Festus Ojelabi, said that teenage and unwanted pregnancies had grave consequences for young ladies and their babies.
"The consequences of teenage pregnancy are numerous. The health consequences are even worse. Issues like Vesico-vaginal fistula, which is a connection between the urinary bladder and the vagina causes urine to leak uncontrollably through the vagina.
"Majority of these teenage girls attempt unsafe abortions because they definitely know they are too young to become mothers. This in turn could lead to infection and infertility later in life."
Though, not legal in Nigeria, more than 34,000 young women die from abortion and its complications every year in the country, according to latest statistics. Experts say that for every girl killed in the process of abortion in the country, 20 others were impaired for life. Many in this category are those desperate to erase the shame carrying pregnancies that came from rape and denial could cause them and their families.
In many societies, babies born through rape and or denial are labelled as 'children of bad memories' and even 'devil's children.' The United States Agency for International Development, UNICEF and Amnesty International, posit that such babies risk a lifetime of victimisation and rejection.
A legal practitioner, Zubair Ahmed, believes that meting out stiffer punishments to rapists and men who deny pregnancies could go a long way in curbing the sad situation in the society. According to him, if few people are used as examples, others who had such intentions could be forced to have a rethink.
"There are so many rape cases that go unreported across the country on daily basis. Even those which are reported, what kind of punishment do you give them? In my humble opinion, men who impregnate women or girls and later turn around to deny such should be made to suffer after it had been genuinely proven that they were indeed responsible for such pregnancies. By the time you make three or four people a scapegoat, the others would naturally begin to behave rightly. The Nigerian constitution as it is, encourages a lot of criminality, we need to look at some aspects critically for the good of the society," he said.
Confined to the four walls of Ozanam House as they look to put a tragic past behind them, many girls like Morenike and Amarachi wish the last few months was a long night they could wake up from and never had to experience. They said that they would live with the pains of their harsh experiences all their lives.