‘Mercy killings’ in Lesotho

‘Mercy killings’ in Lesotho

MASERU-A WOMAN from Thabaneng in Mafeteng believed killing her disabled child would bring relief to her life – even suggesting that the heinous act was an act of mercy on the 5-year-old.
Now the 27-year-old woman is likely to spend much of her remaining adult life in jail after the police arrested her.

According to police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, the woman indicated that she was fed up looking after her daughter on her own after her husband deserted the family.
The crippled child needed so much attention that the mother decided that life would be better with the child dead.
The physical disability of the girl, whose father allegedly never returned after leaving for Cape Town in South Africa shortly after the child’s birth, bothered the mother so much that killing her was the only solution that could end the suffering of both mother and daughter.

The girl could not walk and needed close attention at all times and the mother allegedly told the police that she had to quit her job to look after her.
She strangled the child to death last month and told cops that she had committed the act to save both of them from a life of agony.
“The reason for killing her daughter was because her daughter had physical disability,” said Superintendent Mopeli.

Superintendent Mopeli said the woman indicated that she was struggling to raise the child since she was not financially stable.
“The father of her daughter left them to look for a job in Cape Town in South Africa. The suspect said she last heard from him on the day he left,” Superintendent Mopeli said.
This is the first official report in Lesotho where a mother openly stated that she loved a child so much that she decided to kill her to end her misery, according to organisations that represent disabled people.

This paper’s own investigation going through court records drew a blank on such cases.
However, one mother from Ha-Mabote told thepost that she nearly killed her disabled son for the same reason.
Asking to be anonymous, the woman said she was pregnant with her second child 20 years ago, and like any mother, she hoped for a normal and healthy baby.
“After giving birth, I was so shocked that my baby had physical disabilities,” she said.

The woman said she used to make fun of people with disabilities so having a baby like that depressed her.
Some of her family members told her that she was cursed because the baby’s father was married to another woman, she said, adding that she had to do odd jobs to take care of the baby as she was unemployed at the time.

The baby’s father refused to support the family, she said.
When her son reached four years without showing any signs of walking, she got gravely worried.
“He was just like a new born baby and was still on nappies,” she said. “His situation depressed me and I started having thoughts of killing him.”
She even bought rat poison to end her son’s life.

“I loved my child but I thought he was suffering,” she said.
The woman said as she tried to feed her son the poison, the boy looked her in the eyes and smiled before opening his mouth.
“Seeing him smile made me have compassion for him. I threw the poison away and never tried to kill him again.”
“Looking at him now, I am grateful that I never killed him,” she said of her now 19-year-old son.

She said she is now earning some money as a factory worker and has been able to buy her son a wheel chair.
Mercy killing, a practice in which parents of disabled children kill them because of the belief that they are better off dead than having to endure a painful and incurable disability, rarely forms public debate in Lesotho.

This is because of the “pinyane ea basali-baholo thotobolong” or “secrets of old women are at the rubbish heap”.
Stillborn babies, according to the Sesotho customs, are buried at the family’s rubbish heap.
It is believed that some of these babies were deliberately killed because they had some deformities or were somehow disabled.
In an article published in the Mail & Guardian in 2018, Poppy Ngubeni, who is a traditional healer and independent researcher in African medicine, said Lesotho has “the worst stories” of this kind of infanticide.

Ngubeni found that “intersex babies (were) being thrown into the river; some bashed on big [rocks] or even left in the wilderness to be consumed by wild animals”.
The midwives, normally old women of the family or clan, “justified their actions as ‘an act of love’”.
“They believe that, in doing this, they are saving the mother from too many questions from the community,” the paper quotes Ngubeni as saying.
These secrets of women remain hidden forever.
Because modern births are usually done at hospitals such children are nowadays not killed instantly but could be put to their deaths by their parents later in life – as was the case with the

Thabaneng case.
The Lesotho National Association of Physically Disabled (LNAPD), has condemned such acts and said law enforcement agencies should descend hard on people who committed such acts.
“The killings need to stop,” the association said in a statement after the Thabaneng incident.
It said it is pinning its hopes on the Disability Equity Bill that is awaiting to be passed in parliament. The Bill was tabled in Parliament in August 2018.
“The Bill will help people with disability to be the rights holders capable of exercising their human rights on an equal basis with others,” the association said.

The association said many such cases could be going unreported.
The LNAPD’s Publicity Officer, Ernestina Ramathinyane, said the Thabaneng case was the first to be officially recorded by the organisation.
Ramathinyane said previously they had only recorded cases of people with physical disabilities being isolated, discriminated and denied access to education.
“For example when people see a person living with physical disability pregnant, they discriminate against her,” she said.
Ramathinyane said the association has been holding village meetings to raise awareness on the importance of taking good care of people with disabilities.

The Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD) said the Bill “will undoubtedly contribute to the human rights advancement of people with disabilities and promote disability inclusion in public and private sector”.
The Bill “will give people with disabilities power to claim and enforce their rights and participate effectively in the decision making processes,” said LNFOD.
Some countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium have legalised child mercy killing or child euthanasia.
Belgium is the only country in the world that authorises euthanasia at all ages.

The Netherlands case was started when Bente Hindriks, born in 2001 at Groningen University Medical Centre, was diagnosed at birth with a rare genetic disorder called Hallopeau-Siemens syndrome.
The disease features chronic blistering and peeling of the epidermis and mucous membranes, according to medical journals. The journals also state that no effective treatment exists for the condition, which results in the damage on the top layer of the skin and “severe, unmitigated pain”.
The child’s parents decided on mercy killing since the paediatrician, Dr Eduard Verhagen, could do nothing to alleviate the child’s pain.
The doctor administered a high dose of morphine that killed the child.

Following the incident, Dr Verhagen started a campaign to force policy changes to permit infant euthanasia under strict guidelines.
He publicly admitted to terminating the lives of four more infants, all with severe cases of spina bifida.
His campaign resulted in the signing of the 2005 Groningen Protocol, which shields physicians who perform end-of-life procedures on infants under accepted criteria from prosecution.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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