TABOOS AND THE LAW

Sentenced for saving outcast baby

She was charged with denying child the right to live with her parents

In Summary
  • Elizabeth Viyanda offered to take a baby who had been tagged outcast because she was born to members of the same clan.
  • She now serves three years probation from September after prosecutors established she was not a baby thief
Elizabeth Viyanda outside Kibera law courts
SHUNNED: Elizabeth Viyanda outside Kibera law courts
Image: CLAUSE MASIKA
“I hear children innocently warn each other not to buy vegetables from me because I steal children. They say their parents warned them,” Viyanda narrated.

In a small village in Vihiga county, Elizabeth Viyanda is considered an angel, sent down to save a child’s life.

On the other hand in Nairobi’s Kibera slums, Viyanda is considered a villain, a child thief shunned by both young and old.

“I only long for a normal life, maybe an invisible one like I had before this case. Yet I hope one day I will reunite with my baby,” she says tearfully.

Viyanda has just begun serving a term of three years on probation. She was arrested in October 13 last year and accused of stealing a baby at Kenyatta National Hospital.

After investigations, however, Viyanda was charged with denying a child the right to live with and be cared for by her parents. This was after DNA tests proved the child said to have been stolen did not belong to the complainant.

However the damage of the initial accusation remains to haunt Viyanda long after she was absolved of the claims.

“I hear children innocently warn each other not to buy vegetables from me because I steal children. They say their parents warned them,” she explained.

“I see it in the way people look at me. They say I am barren. That probably even my own son who died last year must have been stolen”.

Viyanda takes a long pause, adjusts her red headscarf and raises her head to look at a bunch of fresh vegetables meticulously arranged on her open stall.

She says she was approached by her friend Edith Gayanzi who informed her that her [Gayanzi's] sister in the village was looking for a person who wanted a baby.

 

Gayanzi explained to her that her sister had been impregnated by a member of their clan in what is considered a taboo.

“She said if the child did not find a home, she would have to be killed,” she narrated.

Viyanda, a mother of one, after discussing with her husband, offered to take up the child.

“I set on a journey to Vihiga, a village called Igakhala, where I was given a two-month-old baby,” she said.

Four months later, Viyanda’s son who had been ailing for a long time died in September.

“He had been in and out of hospital since childhood before his death at 20. It was a great loss, but I took solace in my baby. She was a blessing,” she said.

Barely a month after her son’s death, a woman showed up at Viyanda’s door with police officers claiming she had stolen her baby. The nine-month-old baby was taken away to a children’s home while Viyanda was arrested.

The officers explained to her that Phanice Rasoa had given birth to twins at Kenyatta National Hospital and one was lost.

“I knew Phanice well since we worshipped in the same church,” Viyanda said.

“One time, before the incident, she came to my stall and jokingly said if it were possible to swap children, she would have asked that of me since she only had male children. I told her all children are from God”.

Viyanda was remanded at Lang’ata Women’s Prison for four months pending investigations. She had been granted a cash bail of Sh200, 000 which she said she could not afford.

“If someone takes you to Lang’ata prison, that person wants to kill you. You suffer so much when in incarceration and the pain gets into your head when you know you are innocent,” she said.

During that time, Viyanda said her business and family suffered as her neighbours pointed an accusing finger at her.

“My name was soiled; different stories cropping up from people about how I steal babies. Phanice stays a few blocks away from my house, would I steal her baby and keep her here?” she asked.

During the second month of her incarceration, Viyanda said the baby’s mother was called for a DNA test after which it was proven that she had not stolen the child.

“We had had two DNA tests with Phanice and both results came out negative until the baby’s biological mother was sought for a test. That is when the charges against me were amended,” she recounted.

The baby’s biological mother from Munyoma village in Vihiga was only 15 years old when she got pregnant and gave birth in February 2018.

She told court that her parents told her the baby could not share a home with them. She said her sister took her to her grandmother who shared the same belief.

They said it was a taboo to keep the baby and gave me two options: kill the baby or give her up,” she said.

The mother said it was then that her sister Edith brought Viyanda who agreed to take her child.

“I was away when the baby was taken. Later on, the mother said she received a call from her sister asking her to come to Nairobi to help in an investigation involving my daughter,” she said.

On arrival, the young mother said she was arrested and detained for two months during which she took DNA tests to confirm that the child was hers.

“The DNA samples matched and I was released after two months in custody. I had never seen the baby since she was given to Viyanda,” she said.

Kibera Law courts sentenced Viyanda to three years in probabtion for taking the baby away after the prosecution in their report told court that the woman was only acting as a good Samaritan who wanted to save a child’s life.

The prosecution stated that the case was based on taboos. They noted that both parties were ignorant of the law.

Unaware of what the sentence means, Viyanda still holds on to the hope that she will get the baby back.