Eight years ago, Peter Maingi and his wife walked into a hospital expecting their second child. They had been told from the scans that it was a male child.
Maingi says that in his culture, having a male child make one feel proud.
“When I was told I had a male child, I was happy, my wife confirmed that it was a baby boy.”
However, what the couple learned following the birth of their second child would lead to the greatest test of their marriage. One that Maingi describes with a bit of sad countenance on his face.
“To have an intersex child is one of the most challenging things in humanity and especially in our country”, said Peter. “I remember very well when my child was born, we had done a pre-test to know whether it was a boy or a girl.”
An intersex person is born with sex characteristics including genitals and chromosome patterns that do not fit the typical description of male or female bodies.
“We were told he had a kind of ambiguous genitalia meaning the male anatomy is not well-formed but we were told it was something simple by the midwife and we had to take him to the clinic. I have never failed to go to a clinic with my wife, until when we were told to go to a national hospital because initially, they could not identify the testicles,” he said.
The couple then took their newborn for an operation to determine his sex. The events that followed were traumatizing.
“When they came out of the operating room my wife was surprised that nothing had been done to my child. She asked what happened and was told that the child had not been operated on. She was told very discouraging words “Your child will never give birth, do many things like a normal child.”
The doctor’s said there was nothing they could do considering the delicate situation of the baby. The hospital also lacked the means to operate on the baby.
Maingi’s wife could not absorb the shock. She immediately fainted. Her husband was called in and he came running, worried that someone had died.
He says the shock was not just for them but for the doctors too. They advised him to do what is known as karyotyping a process that is carried out to determine the real sex of a child.
Maingi was surprised that karyotyping is not available in Kenya, so most people are always advised to seek help from Germany or South Africa then send the results back home to the local hospitals.
The exercise in itself is also costly he says, adding that he has used nearly Ksh 4 million (USD 40,000) treating his child since he was born.
“When the results came, in fact, my wife went for them. It was one of the worst experiences that we had when a statement came written “Your child is XX46 karyotype” and the name hermaphrodite, that makes you feel as if you are not a normal human being,” Maingi says.
“I didn’t know this would be a long journey. That is how my life changed, a man who was in business, now you try to get funds, you even go to get loans and then you are no longer in business.”
His wife was affected badly by the unfolding events. At one point she was admitted to the hospital because she developed hypertension. Maingi admits that he was hurt, and he felt like his life had come to an end.
“My wife was on the first floor then my child on the third floor. You are a man, every cent has gone, you are now begging and asking friends for help, you can’t get enough help to help your family.”
“Then there are people telling you divorce your wife, kill the child so that you can live a normal life. I said that, I will never because as a Christian who is born again, I know where the verse in the bible, Jesus was asked who was sinful or who had the problem between the father and mother for a child with a disability or this condition, Jesus said no, it was for the glory of God.”
Maingi has had to transfer his now 8-year-old child who is in grade three to several schools over fears of being bullied or because most schools lack the correct washroom facilities for intersex children.
He says there is light at the end of the tunnel now that the Kenyan Government is making the effort to get data on intersex persons in the country.
Maingi who is also a member of the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya-IPSK is delighted that the Kenyan government has taken steps to recognize intersex people in the country. However, he adds that there needs to be a concerted effort from all the stakeholders among them human rights bodies, private sector and other institutions like the media which should be at the forefront advocating for the plight of such people.
He also urged parents with intersex children to come forward and talk about their challenges.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) Commissioner Judy Waruhiu says the first time a case of an intersex person was reported in Kenya was in 2007.
John Chigiti a human rights lawyer submits the 2010 Kenyan constitution offers a glimpse of hope because it has many sections dealing with human rights. He says, there are gaps in the deaths and births registration act which do not have the provision for intersex persons.
“Even though the law of Kenya speaks about girl, boy, man and woman, the parliament has an opportunity to introduce a bill in the national assembly to change some of the articles on the bill of rights and make sure the intersex people are lawfully captured in the constitution,” Chigiti adds.
He reiterated that the dream of having data on intersex persons is going to be a huge milestone which will require social, political, economic and legislative changes for the affected people.
Intersex activist Ryan Muiruri says the intersex community has a right and need to live freely. “We need a platform to express our views, everywhere I go I am forced to explain my condition, I have been beaten by people who think I am either impersonating or pretending to be who I am not.”
The 28-year-old Muiruri says that the biggest obstacle he has had to face was stigma. He adds that he has tried to commit suicide on several occasions.
That lack of trust from the members of the public and stigma are the greatest challenges for them. He says his mother and siblings have been supportive and they are the reason he is still alive today.
He, just like Maingi is a member of IPSK and says he will lead the battle in the fight for the rights of the intersex people in the country.
Maingi notes that the government should take doctors for further training so that they can easily detect intersex children before or at birth and offer urgent interventions needed to better treat them.