When their birth is a taboo

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Thursday, 23 February 2017 417 Views 0 Comments
When their birth is a taboo

Ryan Muiriri was brought up as a girl named Ruth, in a small town in Naivasha Kenya. Well, at least that is what his mother thought best upon his arrival into this world. During her delivery, there had been a minor complication. Ryan was born an intersex child. The child was born with ambiguous genitalia, displaying characteristics that are not clearly male or female.

However, his mother at that time, could not have foreseen Ruth, would be growing into a young man. She had done what she knew was best, for her child, then. To protect Ryan from the community, she kept her child’s condition a secret and decided to raise her as a girl. However, when puberty came, Ruth did not ‘grow into a young woman’, as expected.

One day, when he was a child, Ryan was led to a nearby forest where his neighbors stripped him ‘wanting to see what was between his legs’. They laughed at him because he looked like a boy and had ‘boy organs’. Word spread about this ‘predicament’. He was traumatized. Some people thought he was cursed. He even faced death threats. He was ridiculed in school and dropped out at 16 and decided to move, and change his identity, for his security.

According to Persons Deprived of Liberty Act 2014, an intersex means a person certified by a competent medical practitioner to have both male and female reproductive organs.  Intersex, according to BBC, is a person with a combination of sex characteristics-chromosomes, genitals or reproductive organs-neither solely male nor female. It distinguishes this from non-binary persons, who do not identify as male or female. Transgender, on the other hand, applies to a person whose gender is different from their ‘assigned’ sex at birth.  Intersex is not about gender or transition. Intersex is bout bodies; about congenital physical differences in sex characteristics.

Member pf Parliament Isaac Mwaura, says there are only 120 people registered as intersex, though the number of children is not known. Dr. Joyce Mbogo, a pediatric endocrinologist says there is no documented data in Kenya since the issue is sensitive in our society.  However, at the center where she practices, she tells  Cheptoek Boyo who interviewed her for MediaMax network, they are currently treating more than 26 cases from all over Kenya.

On October 26th, 2016, Intersex awareness day, Gamafrica   Foundation held a walk in Nairobi to push for recognition of the intersex community. The theme of the walk was to overcome the stigma that accompanies intersex children in Kenya.

Intersex Society of North America argues that intersexuality is primarily a problem of stigma and trauma, not gender. This is true particularly in the African context where such children are considered cursed, and a taboo.  Some children have faced death threats due to fear, ignorance and erroneous beliefs. Many children battle with stigma as a result of their state.

 

“Having a child with DSD(Disorder of Sex Development ) or being diagnosed with DSD can be challenging, but with appropriate specialist guidance and being surrounded by a loving and supportive family, the child can grow up safely and thrive. The main medical risk fro DSD people is psychological distress over time.”

Dr. Joyce Mbogo, pedriatric endocrinologist.

 

A person who feels their child might be intersex should seek a diagnosis and find out if he or she needs professional care.  Both the parents and the child are also advised to undergo guidance and counseling. Professional mental healthcare is deemed essential.

Some parents might opt out for surgical re-allignment by removing either one of the intersex genitalia. There are however disadvantages with correctional realignment surgery. One, it is a costly medical expense, beyond the reach of many. Secondly, a parent may opt for removal of male genitalia and choose to raise the child as a girl, only for them to reach puberty, and start growing a beard and have more masculine features. Doctors and experts recommend that the correctional operation, if necessary, to be performed during puberty when the child’sex can be accurately assigned.

BBC News reported in October 2016, in  Kenya, children who are born intersex cannot get birth certificates or Identity Cards or register for exams. This is despite the landmark case of Baby A( suing through her mother, EA)2014 eKLR petition no 266 of2013, where the court ordered the government to issue a birth certificate to a 5-year-old child born with ambiguous genitalia. The hospital staff had put a question mark next to the box designating gender on the form to record the birth of the child.

The judge went further to rule that it is the duty of the government to protect the right of intersex babies and persons by providing a legal framework to address issues relating to them, including registration under the RBDA, medical examination and tests, and corrective surgeries.

Some parents choose to accept the child as they are and raise them as intersex. However, Kenya has been rather slow, in embracing laws to recognize the intersex gender, or otherwise known as the 3rd Gender.  However, there is hope for legislation where MP Isaac Mwaura has proposed a bill asking the Parliament, to pass a law recognizing the 3rd gender to end discrimination against those who identify as intersex.

It is, therefore, prudent to us as a society, to get a better understanding of intersex persons, have informative conversations and be more receptive to them. Remember they did not choose to be born intersex, and need a lot of support, to understand and accept themselves as they are. At the end of the day, we are not their creator, so we have no right to judge them. They are as much human, as we are.

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”

William Shakespeare

Ochollah Judy

Kenya Judy is a Lawyer by profession passionate about protecting the rights of the child. She founded and runs an organisation called Sauti ya Mtoto which aims at creating a world in which children particularly, vulnerable children, can grown into adulthood and reach their maximum potential

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