Source: How society pushes some infertile women to crime | The Herald September 6, 2019
Roselyne Sachiti Features, Health & Society Editor
On Monday, The Chronicle carried a story of a Bulawayo woman who was arrested for stealing a two-day-old baby from a 16-year-old new mother who had just been discharged from Mpilo Hospital.
The woman, Ngonidzashe Shava (38), of Magwegwe North, allegedly faked pregnancy before she teamed with a friend, Loveness Ndebele, to steal the two-day-old baby from the new teenage mum. All this, the story said, was in an effort to impress her husband.
In another incident, a Chitungwiza woman, Sarudzai Mutingondo (33), was arrested in 2017 for allegedly stealing a baby in Pretoria, South Africa, where she was employed as a maid. She then misled her Zimbabwean-based boyfriend that she had just given birth.
Mutingondo stole the baby in October 2016 in Pretoria then returned to Zimbabwe and told her boyfriend that she had given birth while in South Africa.
When she left Zimbabwe for South Africa the previous year, Mutingondo was said to have been pregnant, but had a miscarriage which she presumably didn’t inform the boyfriend about.
In 2013, a woman from Epworth stole a 11- day-old baby from an unsuspecting woman she had befriended in Harare’s Central Business District (CBD).
In yet another incident in 2012, an infertile Chitungwiza woman, Lungile Nyathi (30), was jailed for two years for kidnapping a two-month-old baby girl in South Africa and smuggled her to Zimbabwe to please her hubby.
Nyathi is said to have become barren in 2006 after undergoing an operation to remove her uterus.
In court she said she wanted to please her husband’s relatives who had become impatient with her for not falling pregnant.
The above are just a few of the many drastic measures that some infertile women take to save their fragile marriages, and avoid being shunned and shamed by society.
In many societies, women are unfairly given the major share of blame when couples fail to conceive.
As a result, the social, mental and economic impact of this “gendered suffering” as a result of being infertile may prove to be devastating and lead women into committing crimes like stealing babies.
This is despite the fact that of all infertility cases, approximately 40-50 percent are due to “male factor” infertility and as many as 2 percent of all men will exhibit suboptimal sperm parameters. Yet, women carry the heavy cross as society turns a blind eye to this reality.
If anything, a research paper titled “Gendered character of barrenness in an African context: An African pastoral study” by Magezi Baloyi confirms the struggles that barren women go through.
“The statement ‘Woman’s glory is crowned in childbirth’ pressurises African women to go to great lengths to conceive a child of their own, according to Kimathi (1994:82). The statement suggests that it is the woman who is under pressure to conceive and give birth.”
Because of such thinking, and after having tried all known and unknown herbal concoctions, remedies, prayer, traditional healers, women are left with the pressure of proving that they can have babies.
When out of desperation the women commit the serious offences, the same society whose expectations pushed them to their tipping point judge, them again without taking into consideration the fertility challenges they face.
It’s a vicious web, one that traps women and difficult to untangle as women struggle to fulfil the expected reproductive health roles.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), infertility is “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse”.
Issues ranging from genetics, environmental exposures and infectious diseases have been linked to infertility risk. Uterine fibroids, cysts and ectopic pregnancies, among others, have also resulted in women failing to conceive.
In the absence of information and access to costly procedures like in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments, among others, that can help them conceive, most infertile women face the double blow alone.
IVF is a process of fertilisation where an egg is combined with sperm outside the body, in vitro. The process involves monitoring and stimulating a woman’s ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova from the woman’s ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a laboratory.
In Zimbabwe, IVF in private institutions is expensive and beyond the reach of many couples. Because of resource constraints, public hospitals do not yet provide fertility treatments.
Moreover, some infertile women are not even aware of the existence of fertility treatments, pushing chances of ever falling pregnant further away.
The list of problems is endless.
Society also frowns upon couples who adopt children when they fail to conceive.
In many African societies, Zimbabwe included, the decline in adoption is influenced by ancestral beliefs condemning couples that fail to conceive in further distress.
It is such women, who out of desperation end up stealing babies to fulfil the need of becoming a mother.
Society should start viewing and treating women with infertility in a manner that does not cause stigma.
Such women need support which should start with religious, political, opinion shapers among many others.
In Zimbabwe, Merck “More than a Mother” ambassador, First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, has already started engaging infertile couples to bring hope to the affected.
The First Lady, through her ambassadorial role, is partnering the Ministry of Health and Child Care to address together the key challenges that are associated with resource- constrained settings such as prevention of infertility, education self-development, ART/IVF regulation, geographic barriers and limited resources arguments.
Through the partnership with Amai Mnangagwa and Merck Foundation, Zimbabwean obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Harrison Rambanepasi of United Bulawayo Hospitals is at IIRRH Hospital, Bangalore in India, where he is currently undergoing the fertility training fellowship.
Two other obstetricians and gynaecologists, Dr Gerald Madziyire of Harare Hospital and Dr Bostone Manyika of Chitungwiza Hospital, will also be trained under the programme.
Upon their return, public hospitals are expected to start rolling out fertility treatments at a cheaper cost.
When this happens, women like Shava, Mutingondo and Nyathi who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in an effort to become mothers can easily access the affordable services.
Hopefully, cases of infertile women committing such crime will decline as they now have another door to open.