By Joan Akello
Viral video of battered baby leads mothers and childcare experts to rethink modes of care
Jolly Tumuhiirwe, 22, arrived at the home of Eric Kamanzi and his wife, Angella Mbabazi in late October to start work as a house worker or, as is commonly known; a maid. About 26 days later, YouTube images of her torturing their baby were flying all over social media.
In the one-minute video clip, she is seen choking the baby on food, slapping and hitting her with an object when she throws up, hurling her on the tiled floor and repeatedly stepping on her and kicking her in the head and back. Some of the two million viewers of the video are calling Tumuhiirwe“the maid from hell”.
Many are wondering how the family ended up with a stranger who almost killed their baby in their house.
Kamanzi told police that the maid was referred to them by a friend.But Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, a renowned Ugandan pediatrician and child rights advocate, says this case should be an eye opener to parents who leave their children with caregivers to go beyond that.
“Employers should screen potential maids and nannies for possible psycho tendencies,” she says.
“Parents should be there for our children,” she adds.
In the current case, Dr Kitaka says the maid needed to be assessed for mental illness.
She says Tumuhiirwe could have failed to cope because she is young.
“Even at 22, she is still young and suffering from effects of her own childhood,” she says, “As an adolescent she may have been over whelmed with culture shock in attention to caring for the child.”
Dr Kitaka is one among thousands of views and recommendations that have emerged since the maid’s alleged attack on baby Arnella Kamanzi in their home in Kyazinga Zone, Kiwatule village in Kampala, surfaced.
Some like the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mary Karooro Okurut, are putting their faith in the law.
She says even before this incident, her ministry had recently drafted a proposed amendment to the child protection law.
“The Children’s Amendment Act 2014 tightens the rope around such beasts as that maid,” Karoro told The Independent.
In reality, the video leaves parents of young children walking a tight rope between continuing to leave them with caregivers and staying home to take care of them full time. For some, like the mother of one-year old twins who employs two maids, there appears no way out. She needs the maids. Instead, she appears to be devising ways to keep her maids happy and, possibly get kind treatment of her babies from them in return.
“I give the maids freedom and provide for their basic needs,” she says, “No amount of money you give or pay a maid will buy their love for your children.”
There is a belief that maids who are treated badly by their employers take it out on the infants in their care.
“A maid you treat well will love your child or children unless you give them reason not to,” says another mother. She has three children aged five, three, and one and says she has not watched the video and only heard about it from her neighbour.
Human Rights advocate Laudislaus Kiiza Rwakafuuzi says the maid might have been mistreated by her employers and acted out of vengeance on the child.
He says installing a hidden camera in their living room, which is not common in many Uganda households, shows that the employers did not trust the maid but still entrusted her to take care of their toddler.
“She needs protection and counseling not imprisonment until she is proven guilty,” Rwakafuuzi says.
He is concerned that the maid has been remanded for two weeks.
“This is too long, yet she is most likely poor, not represented, and hated by the whole society,” he says.
But another mother, who has a 15-year old child and is expecting another says regardless of how a maid is treated by employers, they should not be hurting children.
“One who is motherly will find it difficult to inflict pain on an innocent child,” she says.
Hiring house workers is common in Uganda because they are relatively cheap. Most, in fact, are not paid at all. They are usually very young, uneducated poor orphans or under-privileged poor who are deemed to be content to have a roof over their heads and a bowl of food.
Some are recommending that working parents; especially mothers opt for trained and motherly maids who are obviously more expensive and experienced or take children to day care centres rather than leave them to untrained, poorly paid, young or very frustrated maids.
As the debate rages, Tumuhiirwe aka `the maid from hell’ was on Nov. 21 arraigned before the Nakawa Magistrates Court on a charge of torturing a child. She was remanded to Luzira Prison and is due in court on Dec. 8.
If convicted on that charge, she is liable to imprisonment for life, get fifteen years or pay a fine of three hundred and sixty currency points (Shs7.2 million) or both depending on how the court assesses the circumstances.
But the Police Public Relations Officer, Fred Enanga, told The Independent that the charge has, with the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions, been amended to attempted murder.
“Her actions were consistent with killing this child,” he says. The police say Tumuhiirwe underwent a mental checkup before she was charged and was found to be mentally of sound mind.