Being raised by mentally ill mother


She calls herself Viwaya—a troublesome woman.

She is in her 30s and mentally ill.

For two years now, she has been living within Karonga District Hospital (KDH) premises because that is where she finds her daily food.

Viwaya’s survival depends on leftovers, mostly from in-patients and their guardians.

She has been living at the hospital’s guardian shelter since the time she was raped by an unidentified man who took advantage of her mental problem.

Viwaya is always together with her child

‘‘I was taken into the bush one night where I was raped,’’ she says, adding: “That man almost killed me.”

Viwaya alleges that the suspect infected her with HIV, a virus that causes Aids. She is now on anti-retroviral therapy (ART).

Community members around the hospital suspect that the woman was raped by a bicycle-taxi operator who cannot be traced as nobody immediately reported the matter to police.

I met Viwaya a few weeks ago at the hospital.

She was holding a little boy.

He looked unkempt. His clothes were mostly oily and soiled.

Viwaya told me that the boy was her biological child.

In this story I will call him Steve.

He should be a year and some few months old.

I followed Viwaya’s movements for five hours to observe how she spent her day with little Steve.

She spent the five hours wandering around the hospital premises with Steve strapped on her back.

As dusk fell, she retreated to the hospital’s guardian shelter. I learnt later that is where she spends her nights with Steve.

That Sunday evening, Steve was thirsty.

He went to a nearby borehole but before he started drinking water, Viwaya rushed to take him away.

Unlike other children in Malawi, Steve does not have freedom of movement.

They both went to the guardian shelter’s kitchen but there were no leftovers.

They slept on an empty stomach.

Children have the right to a clean and safe environment but little Steve enjoys none of them.

A source at the guardian shelter says Viwaya comes from Lupembe in the area of Paramount Chief Kyungu.

“Steve is living like a wild animal. In most cases he sleeps without taking a bath,’’ she says.

Karonga District Hospital safe motherhood coordinator Joseph Kasililika says soon after Viwaya delivered, her relatives tried to take Steve from her.

“But she went to Lupembe to take back her child,’’ Kasililika says.

He admits that it was difficult to ensure that Viwaya attends antenatal care when she was pregnant of Steve.

‘‘It was difficult to trace her whereabouts; as a result, she missed some important precautions,’’ says Kasililika.

However, he says Steve is better than other children born at the hospital to mentally ill women.

Kasililika recalls a story of a baby who was born to mentally ill parents.

‘‘That baby was dumped by its mother one week after birth,’’ he says, adding that the child was later rescued by some health staff.

The convention on the rights of the child states that children have the right to live with their parents, unless if it is bad for them.

However, in most cases, children in Malawi stay together with their mentally ill parents.

Furthermore, Article 14 of the 2005 African Union Charter on the rights of women in Africa protects the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault or rape.

The article allows abortion, especially where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the unborn child.

However, legalisation for safe abortion faces major opposition from some religions in Malawi.

Recently, churches conducted nationwide demonstrations to appeal to Parliament against passing the Bill into law.

They argue that the Bill is against religious values that state that life begins at conception, and that no man has a mandate to kill.

Malawi has many stakeholders that ensure children are properly cared for, and that they are protected from any form of abuse, but few pay attention to children like Steve.

While his colleagues are attending early childhood education, Steve’s future looks cloudy because he is always strapped to his mother’s back.

Clinical director at St John of God Hospital, Michael Nyirenda, warns that Steve risks growing up copying the behaviour of his mentally ill mother if he is not separated from her.

‘‘Although mental disease does not directly affect anyone close to the sick person, Steve is too young, and he can learn mental attitude from his mother through observation. I wish he could be separated from his mother,’’ Nyirenda says.n

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