I was forced into an abusive marriage at 15

Forty-four-year-old Teresiah Wanjiru was married as a minor and has never known the joy of marriage. Married to a man she barely knew, Teresiah suffered domestic violence in the hands

  • PublishedFebruary 12, 2014

Forty-four-year-old Teresiah Wanjiru was married as a minor and has never known the joy of marriage. Married to a man she barely knew, Teresiah suffered domestic violence in the hands of her husband. Hers has been a life of pain and misery as she shared with WANGARI MWANGI.

Teresiah Wanjiru is not certain about her age. Her mother couldn’t recall exactly when she was born and she estimated her year of birth as 1970. Born in Nandi Hills, Teresiah recalls watching her mother struggle to raise her and her siblings at Maji Mazuri village. She decided to move in with her grandmother in 1978 in the neighbouring Igure farm. It took her three days to get to her grandmother’s home.

“I left home without informing my mother. I went to the market hoping to meet my grandmother but was informed she hadn’t come to the market that day. I spent the night at a Good Samaritan’s home, and the following night at the house of a woman who knew my mother and who eventually took me to my grandmother’s home,” says Teresiah, adding that her mother never came looking for her.

Forced into marriage

1980 would be the year that everything about her life would take a turn for the worse. Her male cousin, who was a frequent visitor to their grandmother’s home, came one evening with a friend only identified as Kimunya. The two requested Teresiah to accompany them to Nairobi to visit one of her aunts whom she had never met. This, as she would later find out, was a ploy to abduct her and make her Kimunya’s wife. Teresiah declined the request but they had a plan for her. “The following day my cousin and his fried approached me. They walked towards where I was waiting for my turn to buy milk and asked me to escort them to the bus stop, as they were leaving for Nairobi,” says Teresiah.

Innocently, she followed them and they all ended up at the nearby Githioro village in Nandi Hills, which was Kimunya’s home. They spent the night there and left for Nairobi early the following day but her cousin alighted along the way. Upon reaching Nairobi, Kimunya took Teresiah to Korogocho slums. This was now her matrimonial home, she was told by Kimunya with the warning that she had no say or choice over it. Kimunya, who was 23 years old at the time, operated a small Jua Kali business and would sometimes leave her locked up in the house when he went to work. Naive and helpless, Teresiah yearned to go back home but had no money and neither did she know her way back home.

She accepted her predicament. At barely 15 years, she was a wife to a man she didn’t know. Her nightmare aggravated when her husband became violent towards her on the first week of her forced marriage. Teresiah says he would beat her up for no reason. She later learnt that he abused drugs. “When he first beat me up I was serving him dinner. He seemed angry with me for serving him ugali and stew on separate bowls.

This was to be the beginning of a violent marriage. He would beat me up for trivial things such as the fact that someone had greeted me on the road,” says Teresiah. In the early months of 1981, Kimunya was formally introduced to Teresiah’s mother.

This introduction raised Teresiah’s hope that her husband would abandon his violent habits. She conceived in the same year but suffered a miscarriage after six months owing to the beatings. She conceived another two times and each time she would loose her baby after six months owing to the constant battering.Kimunya wasn’t moved by his wife’s continuous miscarriages and the health risk it posed to her.

“After a miscarriage, he would come to Pumwani Hospital, clear the bill and leave me there. We would then meet again in the house and go on with life as if everything was okay,” she recalls. Her husband later established a business for her where she sold plastic wares while he sold fresh maize and roasted some.

Teresiah recalls a time in 1983 when a woman came to her makeshift kiosk and advised her to seek salvation if she wanted to have a child. “She said she was from Naivasha and claimed God had sent her to me the message that if I became a born-again believer, He would bless me with a child,” says Teresiah adding, “she warned me that if I failed to obey, all my toil would be in vain.” With that the woman left and Teresiah never saw her again. An obedient Teresiah followed the instructions to the letter.

With the help of her neighbour she went to church the following Sunday and became a born-again believer. Call it fate, coincidence, or a prophecy come true, Teresiah later conceived and gave birth to her first-born son Daniel Kimani who is now 29 years old. She admits that even during this pregnancy, her husband remained violent but by then she had learnt to shield her

belly from his blows. “I noticed that whenever Kimunya beat me, he would aim for my stomach. The only way I could save my child was to run away from the house whenever he started his fights. I ended up sleeping out in the cold just to hide from his beatings,” recalls Teresiah.

She conceived with her fifth child in 1986 but suffered another miscarriage. She was ignorant of family planning, hence the frequent pregnancies. She hang on to her abusive marriage as she had no other choice and ended giving birth to three more children – Mary Wanjiku, born prematurely and now 27, Ann Wangui, 25, and Jane Wairimu 18.

Enough is enough

April 2003 was the year that Teresiah decided to walk out of her marriage and begin her life afresh. Kimunya had proved to her that he was unwilling to cater for the needs of his family and continued with his violent behaviour.

“Our son, Daniel, had done well in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination (KCPE) but getting Kimunya to pay his school fees was a problem. Daniel finished high school with a debt of Ksh 68,000, which Kimunya was neither willing to pay nor pay school fees for our other children. I often had to borrow money from friends to cater for medical bills whenever our children fell sick. Additionally, I seemed to be the only one concerned about what we ate,” she says.

On the day she walked out of her marriage, she had only 30 shillings in her pocket. The only possessions to her name were the few clothes her husband allowed her to carry. She took her children to her husband’s cousin in Nairobi’s Umoja estate and later moved them to her brother’s home in Dandora, while she stayed with her aunt in Githurai. A friend later gave her and her children accommodation in her house in Kayole estate. Another friend, who learnt of her predicament, later rented for her a house in Nairobi’s River Road.

She later learnt that Kimunya remarried soon after she left and he never tried to make contact with her. Her main challenge was fending for her children. Sometimes they would go without  food for two consecutive days. Her friends helped her oldest daughter join high school, but Teresiah remained financially crippled for a long time and really struggled to raise her children. Having left a trail of debts in many places, her borrowing power diminished. She would get suitors offering financial assistance but they wouldn’t fulfil their promise of funding her children’s education. Trouble seemed to trail Teresiah.

Her mother was kicked out of her farm in Nandi Hills during political skirmishes in 2003 and Teresiah had no choice but to take her in her small rental house together with her six siblings. The pressure of hosting 10 people in her small house was mounting. Then in 2005 she gave birth to a baby girl, Tabitha Wanjiku, and the baby’s father abandoned her at Kenyatta National Hospital without paying the bill. “Desperate, I called my eldest daughter, who lived in Naivasha, for assistance,” she recalls her struggles. After leaving hospital, she received eviction notice for accumulating rent arrears.

To avoid paying what she owed since she didn’t have the money, she ran away from the house at night and fled to a friend’s house. Her brother later rented a one-roomed house for her and her children, where it was extremely difficult for any one of them to have decent sleep. She later borrowed money from a friend and rented a more spacious room and also started a business of selling music cassettes and DVDs. This business ignited in her a love for music and she started singing. She got sponsorship from the many women groups she had joined to record her gospel music. She has already

released two albums and is now working on a third one. Teresiah still lives in River Road and thanks to free primary education, women groups and her DVD business, she has been able to educate her children through to high school. Her son, Daniel, got partial sponsorship from a well-wisher to study journalism at Kenya Institute of MassCommunication after staying home for five years.

He finished his course but left a school fees balance. Luckily, he secured a clerical job at a security firm in Nairobi and is supporting his mother. Teresiah’s daughter Wanjiku did not write her form four-national examinations, as she was pregnant at the time. She is now married. Her other daughters Ann Wangui finished high school but performed dismally, while Jane Wairimu is now in form four.

Her last-born Tabitha is a class three pupil at CGHU primary school in Nairobi. Although Teresiah is still struggling to make ends meet, she feels at peace away from domestic violence. She urges parents to forge a good relationship with their children and guide them through life.

She feels that probably if her mother would have followed her the first time she ran away, or even cautioned her when she introduced Kimunya as her husband, life would have turned out different for her

Published on February 2014

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