Double trouble as victims of nodding syndrome are sexually violated
At 18 years, Fiona Laker*, has been suffering from nodding syndrome since 2012, but she is already expecting her second child.
Her first born, a boy, is a result of rape she suffered in 2014, when she was 14 years old.
On the fateful evening, Laker* was returning home from St Paul Primary School in Odek Sub-county, Omoro district, located 7 kilometers away from her home, when she was violated by an unknown man by the road side.
“It was becoming dark when a man attacked me. He grabbed me and pushed me into a nearby bush and raped me, before abandoning me in a lot of pain,” Laker* recounted.
Afraid of her mother’s reaction, Laker* decided not to tell her mother the misfortune that befell her. She silently withdrew from school in Primary Six.
However, a few months later, when her mother realized she was pregnant, she rudely demanded to know who was responsible.
“My mother insulted me and sometimes chased me to go and look for the man who impregnated me, yet I didn’t remember his face,” she said.
Laker* endured her mother’s insults till she delivered healthy baby boy at Odek Health Center III in early 2015. Fortunately, she did not contract HIV/Aids or STI.
As she gradually recovered from her affliction, and at the same time struggling to raise her three-year-old son, Laker* was again impregnated by another man in 2017. The man falsely promised her marriage, but when he learned that his victim was pregnant, he vanished.
Her mother, on realizing that she would have to bear more burden of raising a grandchild, banished her pregnant daughter, accusing her of bringing burden to her home. Laker* had to seek refuge at her grandmother’s home. She has been staying there since last year.
Last week, our reporter met her at Odek Health Center III, where she had gone for ante-natal visit. Now eight months pregnant, she is looks fragile and emaciated.
“I am so weak; I don’t have enough food to eat at my grandmother’s home,” she stated.
Molly Apio*, 18, is another nodding syndrome victim who conceived after she was raped.
Her mother, Doreen Akongo, a resident of Bolo Parish, Awere Sub-county, Pader district said she became anxious about Apio’s* body changes in August last year, and later confirmed that she was pregnant. Sadly, when she asked her daughter about her pregnancy, she couldn’t recall the person responsible.
Akongo, a mother of five, said she faces challenges taking care of her sick daughter, and worries that her burden will pile, when she gives birth in two months.
“I am worried about her life since sometimes she gets seizures and falls really hard on the ground,” Akongo said.
“Her condition has worsened because of inadequate medication. I can’t move away from home because I fear leaving her alone at home,” she added.
Lucy Acaa’s 16-year-old daughter, Christine Lapolo*, also a victim of nodding syndrome is however fortunate to have escaped an attempted rape last year.
Acaa, a resident of Lamola Parish in Odek sub-county, Omoro district, narrated how an unidentified attacker broke into the grass-thatched hut where her daughter was lying during day time, after a seizure.
However, the attacker’s intentions were thwarted, when the screamed and people came and rescued her.
Lapolo* was a beneficiary of Odek Nodding syndrome center, where she got specialized medical treatment, learning, and nutritious meals.
But since the center, Hope for Humans, was closed due to financial challenges, girls like Lapolo* are more prone to sexual abuse.
These are just a few of several girls in Acholi sub-region, who have to bear the draining effects of nodding syndrome, coupled with abuse by sex offenders.
Statistics from Omoro District indicates six girls suffering from Nodding syndrome have been defiled and raped.
Caesar Okot, the program Manager at Hope for Humans said four of the rape and defilement cases were reported between December last year, and January this year, when the center closed down.
According to Akena, girls suffering from the disease are more vulnerable to sexual abuse by men within the community, due to limited outreach programs and sensitization by the district.
“When the center was still open, our officials used to sensitize the community, so they had fear and have respect for the girls, but the case has changed,” Akena said.
Akena expects that more girls suffering from nodding syndrome will be sexually abused, if the government and other stake holders don’t intervene.
The District Police Commander David Kamugisha acknowledged receiving four cases of rape and defilement against girls battling nodding syndrome.
He however said only two of the reported cases are being prosecuted, and the other two have stalled due to lack of incriminating evidence.
The assistant District Health Officer Pader Anna Apiyo said young girls suffering from the disease continue to fall prey to rapist and defilers because of physical and cognitive weaknesses.
She said some of the girls after suffering seizures and convulsion, they wonder away from home, falling into the hands of people with bad ‘attitudes’.
Pader district has the highest prevalence of nodding syndrome in Acholi sub-region, with 2,247 cases recorded since March 2016.
*Victims’ names have been changed to prevent further victimization.