STREET STRUGGLE

The uphill battle of being a mother and a drug addict

Rejection by family members leads to depression and more use of drugs

In Summary

• Children born on the street by drug-user mothers are neglected and likely to be born with disabilities

• A centre in Mombasa is reaching out to the women, roping in about 280 drug users, of whom 175 are mothers

When a child wants protection, a mother is usually the first person to come through to take care of the child, show love and give a listening ear.

However, drug addiction drives many women to the streets and takes attention away from their attention.

Dorcas Akinyi* (not her real name), 25, an active drug user, said she was introduced to drugs at the age of 12 after the death of her mother.

 
 
 
 

Gender-based violence between her parents, which later led to the death of her mother, made her run away from her father. 

After her mother died, no one wanted to associate with Akinyi, including her father, who remarried.

She started using drugs. These affect pregnant women and as a result, one can easily give birth to a disabled child.

“I am a mother of two children. My secondborn is disabled and cannot walk. Another child I gave out to county officials, who visited our den at Go-down and requested to take the baby to the children’s home," Akinyi said.

During her pregnancy, Akinyi never visited hospitals for her clinics, and at that time, she was a serious drug addict, which resulted in the disability of her child.

“I left my crippled child at my father’s house without anyone’s knowledge because I was not in a position to take care of him and until now, I don’t know if he is alive or dead. I have never gone back to check on him,” Akinyi said.

She said she got her two children through hardship with absentee fathers because they were also drug users.

 
 
 

Children born on the streets are always neglected by their parents because they give drugs first priority.

Mary Kahindi, 38, a mother of three and recovering drug addict, said she was exposed to drugs at the age of 20 years.

 

She was working and living a luxurious life as she came from a well-off family. Then she met her lover, who introduced her to heroin.

She started using it for leisure but ended up being addicted, which led to resignation from her job as a government civil worker.

Her boyfriend and father of her child, who used to provide her with heroin and cocaine, abandoned her after learning that she was pregnant.

“After giving birth to a baby girl, I took her to my mother. The situation became worse and I started living a life of slavery, and before I knew it, I had another child with a different man,” Kahindi said.

She started suffering rejection and the only answer she could get from her boyfriend is that the drug is called, “Usinionje, ukinionja utanitamani.”

I left my crippled child at my father’s house without anyone’s knowledge because I was not in a position to take care of him and until now, I don’t know if he is alive or dead
Drug user Dorcas Akinyi*

NEGLIGENCE AND REJECTION

Negligence from her family and friends after giving birth to her two children made Kahindi use drugs more because she was abandoned with her children on the streets.

She got her third child on the streets after giving out her mansion house, which she gifted to a friend with all the documents.

Her mother, who had agreed to take care of her children, moved to Nairobi because she did not want anything to do with her and the children.

“If my mother had given me love, I could not have used drugs that much. She abused and accused me of being a thief, which made me steal her bracelets and phone and sell them at a cheap price to get drugs,” Kahindi said.

Her father disowned her in 2011 after learning she was a drug addict. She did not see him again until she went for his burial last year.

On the day she was delivering her thirdborn son, she consumed 1g of heroin, and in the end gave birth to a boy with complications.

The child’s manhood looks like a circumcised person and has difficulties in passing urine because it has a very small passageway.

“As a mother, I feel so hurt whenever I see my child in that condition. The boy is currently living with my mother but he has never received any treatment since he was born,” Kahindi said.

Her firstborn girl, six, knows she uses drugs. Kahindi walks with the children on the streets after being rejected by their fathers and family members.

The plight of Kahindi, Akinyi and many others like them is of concern to Reachout Centre Trust, a local NGO. Programme manager Faiza Ahmed said most of the women using drugs on the streets are not from Mombasa.

“Most are village girls who came to town to look for work, but due to the negligence and mistreat from their bosses, they engage in sex work and end up being drug addicts,” Ahmed said.

She said the organisation has not managed to integrate a few women who come from the Coast region with their families because the community believes they are criminals.

“We have experienced cases where the community is ready to take back the dead bodies of drug addicts and not a live person, struggling to recover,” Ahmed said.

Most are village girls who came to town to look for work, but due to the negligence and mistreat from their bosses, they engage in sex work and end up being drug addicts
Reachout programme manager Faiza Ahmed

THE JOURNEY TO RECOVERY

Kahindi said it reached a point when her body was full of drugs and she became sick and weak, with swollen legs.

She had no choice but to call her mother to come to her rescue.

“One day I found myself in a Land Cruiser with my three children by my side, being taken to Nairobi. And at that time, I could not speak but shed tears when I looked at my innocent children,” Kahindi recalled.

She stayed in Kenyatta Hospital for two weeks, without doctors finding out what was wrong with her. They later realised her red blood cells had failed due to too much drugs in her body.

After her treatment, she left her children at her mother’s house and went to a clinic to find out her HIV status, which turned out to be negative. That was her turning point. She made a choice to change her life.

She met a stranger who became a friend and took her to the Sex Workers' Organisation Programme to help her get her swollen legs treated.

The organisation later introduced her to Reachout Centre programme and advised her to enroll for methadone drugs, which she did for the sake of her children.

Akinyi, on the other hand, is now a HIV-positive patient. After giving birth to her second child, she became sick and did not know what was wrong.

When her situation worsened, she visited Reachout Centre for treatment, where her status were revealed to her. She does not know how she contracted the disease.

Akinyi is ready to leave street life but due to her condition, she is afraid no one will accept her in the society.

“I have known Reachout Centre for almost seven years, but I have never had that interest of joining them because of fear,” Akinyi said.

She is trying to reduce her drug consumption because she wants to go back to her children. She hopes that one day, she will make the decision to join Reachout Centre.

CHANGING LIVES 

Ahmed said in Mombasa currently, the centre supports a cohort of about 280 women using drugs and around 175 are mothers.

They are supported by the programme in five of the county's six subcounties: Mvita, Likoni, Nyali, Changamwe and Jomvu.

Only 68 of them have agreed to start taking methadone drugs with hopes of reforming completely.

The centre has tailormade programmes for women who use and inject drugs, including Beauty Corner, which started in March 2019 during the International Women's Day.

“Our main aim is to help these women to fully recover from drug addiction, so far 30 women have been successfully enrolled as the first lot,” Ahmed said.

"We normally take them through entrepreneurship skills training for five days, where they get to learn theoretical information."

Of the 30 women enrolled last year, 15 are doing good and the organisation has enrolled them to a hands-on training at Mama Risper salon, where they get the opportunity to learn practical salon work.

“There is a female daycare, which happens every week on Wednesday,” Ahmed said.

"It’s a specific day for women to visit the drop-in centre for women services, a process which helps them in their recovering process."

A drop-in centre is a place where people can go to obtain food and other services.

Edited by T Jalio