When we first met Rose Kamau* her quiet, subdued demeanour hinted of a turbulent 6 months.
The 29-year-old mother worked in the pastoral ministry when she was expecting her second child.
On 14 May 2021, she gave birth to a baby girl Lily*. But suffering from both antenatal and postnatal depression, Rose left Lily unattended. “I was stressed up; even before the baby, I was stressed up,” she reflects.
In Kenya, laws can often be harshly enforced. The consequences; excessive imprisonment. Families torn apart.
Just days after giving birth, Rose was not afforded the luxury of a health examination. Instead, she was charged with attempted murder.
Rose was held at Machakos Women’s Prison. Devastated and depressed. Separated from both her children. Lily was taken into the care of a children’s home while her mother catered to her other daughter.
In prison Justice Defenders paralegals supported Rose. While they are able to provide legal services to everyone in prison, the sensitive and complex nature of Rose’s case meant one of our more experienced, employed advocates Julie Matoke was best placed to advise.
When Rose appeared in court in May 2021, Julie requested a medical examination to enable the court to assess her mental health. Once conducted, the medical report diagnosed Rose as having antenatal depression at the time of labour. Thanks to the diagnosis, Rose’s journey towards justice took a new turn.
Just four months later, the mother and child were able to be reunited; she was overjoyed to have her baby in her arms. The court considered her mental health and dropped the charges of attempted murder. She pled guilty to charges of cruelty to a child.
In September, the court considered the time already served, which reduced the remainder of her time in prison to six months. She was also given a non-custodial sentence of three years.
Justice delayed is justice denied for thousands whose mental health is overlooked in court.
It is not unusual for the court to give harsh sentences to those with mental illness. With an overwhelmed judiciary and the cost of lawyers out of reach for most, many never get justice.
Julie, who worked on the case explains: “It's a relief when an accused person's needs are met and their background is understood. This client had suffered a psychosocial illness when she committed the alleged offence, after proper medical tests the charges against her were substituted. We continue to serve and represent those in the margins of society and try to seek a holistic approach.”
Speaking about her time behind bars, Rose shares her journey: “Coming here in prison...it was a shock...so I was in a depressed state. It has not been easy for me. But now, after receiving counselling and after reuniting with my child, I feel at least I am doing better.”
Rose is spending time bonding with Lily and looks forward to being with her eldest child. The mother is currently on medication and seeing a psychiatrist. She is optimistic she will make a full recovery.
Rose received her freedom in October 2021, and has since been home with her family. She is glad to have the opportunity to raise her young daughters.
According to reports by the Center of Perinatal Excellence, depression is the second most common mental health condition that can affect women at any time of life, but the likelihood increases during pregnancy, with up to 10 per cent of women experiencing depression during pregnancy. This is known as antenatal depression.
Learn how our paralegals have reformed the criminal justice system in Kenya. Ensuring people with mental illness are protected under the law.
*The names of mother and child have been changed for privacy.