The birth of a new baby is one of the greatest wonders of nature and one of the most exciting events known to man. The first question that is usually posed by the mother or father is “is it a boy or a girl”, without this information the new parents cannot even formulate the second question which is usually “is he/she alright?
Being born as a male or a female in the African society comes with a lot of expectations be it; political, religious, cultural or social. These expectations are largely the basis of the inequality and prejudices we experience in the society such as gender violence, it’s even worse for an intersex child whose role cannot be defined immediately they are born.
Women who give birth to intersex children are often considered to be witches or victims of witchcraft, and the intersex children are considered a bad omen to the family, which should be gotten rid of. The ridding takes the form of murders or abandonment. Many women are abandoned by their husbands and in-laws due to the news of such a birth. Most mothers of intersex children dump and abandon their intersex children for dead in pit latrines and lonely forest areas and run from their homes for fear of possible prejudice-driven crimes towards them by family or community members. It’s so unfortunate that the Kenyan society has always responded with denial, hostility and at best, silence, on these matters pertaining to sexual development and related health and rights concern.
The initial treatment of an intersex birth in Kenya will often be silence and secrecy. The family will isolate the child from the general public. In most cases, the mothers of such children will be frowned upon. Usually, superstations loom large as their families consult witchdoctors, mediums and traditional healers for a solution. In many instances, the mother will work with either a traditional medicine practitioner or some other ally to kill the child
In trying to fix the appearance of children’s genitals, grave mutilations have occurred, which have left these children scarred and dysfunctional for life – for most with no chance of ever getting these errors corrected. This is because there is overwhelming pressure at all levels (family, community, spiritual, cultural, and political) to have a child with a body that conforms to the normative “male” or “female” body. A pressure so overwhelming that parents will often kill their intersex babies or surrender them to harmful mutilations.
The approach that is used by the “elite” is a concealment approach where an intersex child will be hidden and “offered” up for surgery without warranting them, and without proper surgical or psycho-social support facilities.
Recent research has demonstrated that the parents of intersex babies are often ill-informed and baffled. Medical professionals may be quick to propose “corrective” surgeries and treatments aiming to “normalise” the sex of the child. Such surgeries, which are cosmetic rather than medically necessary, are often performed on intersex babies and toddlers. This can result in irreversible sex assignment and sterilisation performed without the fully informed consent of the parents and, even more importantly, without the consent of intersex persons themselves.
“Corrective” operations and treatment are usually traumatising and humiliating. They can take a long time and post-operative complications are common. There are long-term effects on intersex individuals’ mental health and well-being. The sex assigned to children at an early age may not correspond with their identity and feelings later on.
In addition, medical services are rarely transparent about the statistics of operations performed on intersex individuals and even the people treated experience difficulties in accessing their own medical records.
Although laws have been the most used tool to advance human rights, such issues discussed above might need a change of the said tools to be achieved. Such social problems would require social solutions. These social solutions may be achieved through social re-engineering in which intersex activists must take the central role to help change the harmful mindset, that has been in existence for so long in the societies that we live in depriving intersex children their peaceful existence.
There is a need for international and regional children’s bodies in Africa to include intersex children in their programming. This will ensure that there is more visibility of the intersex children and their rights to be easily realized and protected.