For four years now, Tisia Ngombeni of Mabwepande in Kinondoni District has been raising her mentally disabled child all by herself. Her son, Maki Joseph developed a mental condition following brain damage during delivery. This marked the beginning of Ngombeni’s nightmares as her husband, a retired army officer decided to abandon her and the baby.
The 31 year old mother of two was informed by the nurses and doctors at Mwananyamala hospital that her baby had suffered brain damage during delivery. “I was in shock and worried at the news but I prayed that all would be well,” Ngombeni said.
When she informed her husband about the baby’s condition, his attitude towards her changed. “He told me there was no way he could father a disabled child and said I must have been involved in immoral activities,” Ngombeni says.
He even advised her to throw the baby away, at the market near Bagamoyo, where people could collect him. He said this would save them the burden of bringing up a mentally disabled child.
Ngombeni decided to seek her parents’ advice who did not support the cruel idea. They warned her that she would be arrested if found out. Eventually she decided to keep her baby and raise him despite the difficult financial situation she was in. “I have gone through a lot with him, he is my flesh and blood so I cannot abandon him. Besides, it’s not his fault he is sick,” Ngombeni says in a motherly tone.
Ngombeni describes her husband, to whom she has been married for six years, as one who was loving and kind until the birth of Maki.
“All was well with my husband, a retired military officer until Maki was born and things changed”, she says adding that “he refused to offer any child care support and instead advised me to move out of the house because Maki was a curse. He claimed he has never seen such a baby”.
Her husband said he would only accept her in their matrimonial home if she threw away the baby. “At one time he told me to kill the baby to off load the burden on our shoulders and the shame that he has brought to the family,” she says.
With tears in her eyes, Ngombeni, who runs a small charcoal business describes how life has been unbearable this year as she is overwhelmed by the baby’s medical condition and maintenance. This has prompted her to start looking for the father of the baby for support. Her small business can not support her and her two children.
“I can’t leave Maki with anyone. Not even my mother considering her old age. He needs a lot of attention but I have to find food, clothes and medication for him,” the young woman says bitterly.
Her desperation drove her to the ward officer in Mabwepande area, Abdalla Kunja where she was advised to take up the case to the social welfare office so that the husband can start providing for the baby.
Kunja, the ward officer says Ngombeni has suffered a lot and has been visiting his office to ask for assistance. “She came to my office complaining how it is hard for her to take care of the two children on her own. She needs maintenance fees from the father; besides Maki needs medical attention which she cannot afford plus special care,” says the Mabwepande ward officer.
Dr Zuberi Mzige of Mwananyamala Hospital says there are various causes of mental illness. Sometimes it can be due to biological factors where someone inherits the genes which run through the family while at other times it can be due to stress or complications during birth.
A disabled child intellectually, physically or visually impaired should be given the same privileges of food, shelter, education, clothing and health care just like any other child.
Notably, the Tanzanian government, under the persons with disability Act No 9 of 2010, considers everyone to be equal and prohibits any discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Thus it is very unfortunate for someone to chase his wife away for giving birth to a baby who is mentally challenged as is the case of Ngombeni. Parents should understand that it is their responsibility to take care of their children, disabled or not.
The secretary of women and gender issues at Bunju area, Jackson Chirimi says he deals with a number of women who present cases of gender based violence, child neglect, divorce and many more.
“The office receives many cases of men abandoning their responsibilities when it comes to family issues” says Chirimi.
Statistics collected between 2011 and 2012 in Bunju, Kinondoni Municipality indicate that a total of 12 women in Bunju area, reported of having been abandoned by their husband leaving them to take care of the children on their own.
Chirimi says women need to be empowered to know their rights as well as in business so they can supplement the needs of their families.
“Women need to be given loans to establish businesses, this way men will stop harassing them,” he advised.
Likewise, Chirimi says, men have to understand that they have the responsibility of providing and taking care of their families including children born with disabilities.