Beaten and left paralysed for attending a night party – the story of Janet from Budaka.

We received a case referred from our Mbale cluster office of a child of 14 years, Janet, who at the time was living with her grandmother when she was tortured by the Uncle. He waited for her by the roadside and hit her on the back with an iron bar for attending a night party. On 14th March she was referred to Mifumi for shelter.  Her Uncle was apprehended, taken to court and sentenced to 5 years – so seeming justice was served, but was it really? Let’s take a look at the case in a bit more detail.

Janet when she had just arrived at the MIFUMI shelter

In Tororo, Mifumi staff started by contacting mother who was married in Kayunga district.  The torture Janet had sustained left her with a serious injury on the back where she was hit.  She was not at all able to walk on her own, she had to be carried.

She came with a catheter to help her pass urine. She was very sick, which is why we contacted her mother. After her injury, Janet was treated by a nurse who put her on a drip, being unsure of what was wrong with her. When Police referred her to Mifumi, it was simply for shelter, nobody knew her condition. At the shelter she was examined by Dr Anthony Okoth of St Anthony hospital who immediately sent for a physiotherapist from hospital to review Janet.  They recommended that Janet should be admitted in hospital for treatment of bedsores because she had wounds on the back of her body. She also had urinal infections because of poor management of the catheter and had developed other complications.

At hospital she was being looked after by grandmother and other relatives. She spent two months at St Anthony hospital although she had initially been on admission for one month but they continued keeping her on, hoping her condition would improve. She was receiving physiotherapy in the hope of restoring her mobility which had been affected by the spinal injury she suffered from the blow on the back. Finally. she was discharged home with simple training to her grandmother on how to continue managing her to see if there would be some improvement.

Janet during a physiotherapy session

A Surgeon’s camp had taken place at St Anthony hospital and the surgeon who attended to her advised that if home management failed, they should refer her to Mulago to see a Dr Nyaki, a spinal surgeon for east and southern Africa.

The Mifumi Team from Mbale and the probation officer from Budaka have been monitoring Janet’s situation. The say there has been no change ever since she left the hospital. The physio- therapist revealed that Janet had sustained a serious injury which resulted in complete transection of her spinal cord, whereby the upper body is disconnected from the lower.

He said during his physio sessions with her, Janet would feel a lot of heat and her leg would try to a move a bit. This gave him hope that she would begin to feel so he continued with the physiotherapy, but he noted that even after all that time, there was no change apart from the heat and twitching in the leg. There was no change as in, she is now beginning to do this or that. He put the probability of her walking again at half, in other words there was a 50 per cent chance that she would walk again. He recommended that if there was some funding, Mifumi could try the spinal surgeon Dr Nyaki at Mulago but he thinks the chances of her ever walking are slim.

He said if the surgeon were to suggest there was hope of restoring her mobility then he would recommend surgery.  However, he said surgery was a very expensive procedure which might cost about twenty-five million shillings in a private facility or eight million shillings at Mulago hospital, where, would be determined by the surgeon. Short of that she may never be able to walk again.

Our biggest challenge now is that Janet’s grandmother is continuing with home management, piling her with a lot of simple drugs bought from the drugs shop and she, the grandmother does not know even what they are treating. Without any proper sense of direction, she is simply hoping Janet will be fine. We don’t know when we might be able to communicate to them the final situation regarding Janet.

Dr Anthony advised that if Janet is likely to lose mobility, this would be indication to change the charge. The culprit is currently serving a 5-year sentence, yet the injury is far more severe and life changing, it should even warrant attempted murder.

Janet’s biggest challenge is she may not be able to walk again. We don’t know what impact breaking such news will have on her but it is likely to leave her shattered. She has been holding firmly on to the hope that she would be able to walk again, that she would go back to school. She is in primary four.

If she loses mobility, her grandmother may not be able to look after her in that condition because she will need feeding, medication and assistance. She can’t move on her own.

Janet wanted to be a musician when she grows up. That dream now seems far away.

Janet’s mother at the Shelter

Janet’s mother at the shelter was rather impatient for Janet to recover quickly. She had left her little children on their own. She had remarried and feared that her marriage would be ruined if she continued looking after this girl. She had left the children with the neighbours. She feared that her husband, who has four other women, may abandon her. She could not take Janet along with her since her new husband does not want her, because she is a child from another marriage. Consequently, Janet is back with her grandmother, living in the same homestead with the perpetrator’s wife and children. Her grandmother is the mother to the perpetrator.

Mifumi is receiving many such cases of young girls who are sent away from home to live with a grandmother or aunty when their mother leaves home, usually to remarry. The grandmothers are not able to provide the necessary protection for these girls who are left at the mercy of male relatives who abuse them as in the case of Janet. This is why I questioned whether justice had really been done, whether an impact statement had been made in court outlining the likely impact of Janet’s injury on her life? For the Uncle – is a five-year sentence enough? For Janet, isn’t this too high a price to pay for going to a night party? I leave you to be the judge of that.

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