‘I was accused of using my son for money rituals because he has Down’s Syndrome’

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Being the mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome in Tanzania is not easy. 

A woman named Magreth shares her story of her experience raising a child with Down’s Syndrome in her country.

“When he was born, I was not comfortable to go to the streets or public areas with my son because some people were looking at me as if I’m a sinful person.”

“Some of my neighbours and relatives know, but others judge us and say that we have used our son for money rituals so that we can be rich.”

In Tanzania, you can go to a witch doctor and ask them to cast a spell  for something you want like money or power. The witch doctor will ask you for a sacrifice. So you could ask the witch doctor to make you rich and sacrifice your own child’s mental capabilities. That’s what people who don’t know parents with children with Down Syndrome think they have done.

Though, that’s mostly never the case.

“It’s a belief in Africa, if you have a family member like my son, Jotham.”

“I remember one day I was in my compound feeding my baby and I received a text message. It was a message from one of my clients and in that message she wrote: ‘Shame on you people! You have used your son for money rituals so that you can become rich. I don’t know why she would say that but that was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t even continue to feed my baby. I just put Jotham down and asked my younger sister to help me feed him. 

I was shedding tears when she asked me what was wrong. I just told her I needed to be alone.”

“I went to the room and I remember I cried a lot. So I called, my husband and I told him, someone has to know.”

The text message she received did forever change her life.

“Back then, when Jotham was born when we went to the park, you could see some people staring; they had a way they looked at us. If you are in a car in public, that will give them the belief that you have used your son for money rituals.”

“I came to realise this is my situation and I have to bear it. I am happy with the way my son is. And because of that, I can go anywhere with my baby. I don’t care how many or what looks I get from outsiders.”

Like Magaret, there are mothers who are hiding their children with Down Syndrome away from the glare of the misunderstanding communities of Tanzania. But the misconception about Down’s Syndrome is widespread; even mothers-to-be are uninformed on the subject.

“When I gave birth I didn’t know anything about Down’s Syndrome, not anything…I feel like no one was ever there, like no one knew about it. But there are so many out there with Down’s Syndrome. Now I want to know about other women out there, to talk about if this has happened to them.”

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