My baby had a death sentence; Banki's story

Monday 1 March 2021

About two and a half years ago, when Banki was six months pregnant with her first child, she received news of the shocking decision the local elders had made about her unborn child. The decision of the elders at the time was that the fetus in her womb was believed by the ritual leaders to be “Mingi”, a local term used to mean ‘the cursed child’ . This meant if the baby is born it would bring bad luck to the entire tribe and the pregnancy must be discontinued. Mingi is the traditional belief among the omotic speaking Hamer people of southern Ethiopia that children with perceived and true physical abnormalities are ritually impure. The children are labeled as Mingi if children’s teeth first appear on the upper gum instead of the bottom gum or if they are born out of wedlock or blessing of the elders, if disabled or are twins they are also considered impure and therefore capable of bringing curses upon the entire tribe. The fear of curse or bad luck for the tribes leads to the ritual killing of many children. The elders are the one who make the decision to brand the child Mingi but the deaths are carried out by various members of the tribes. Luckily, Banki’s son became among the few children who have been given a second chance to live.

Banki’s story in her own words :

My name is Banki. I don’t know my exact age; I am probably twenty years old. I have never been to school in my entire life. I am married and I have a son. His name is Tena The main reason I named my child Tena was because I delivered my baby at a health centre. According to a long tradition in our Hamer community, the naming of children is related to an event that took place the time of the baby’s birth. Two years ago, when I was about six months pregnant with my first child, I was told by the local leaders in my village that the fetus in my womb should not be born because it was “Mingi” according to local ritual belief. When I first heard the elders’ decision, I was shocked and confused. At the time, didn’t know what to do about it. However, as my pregnancy progressed, I decided to leave the area and move to the nearby Demeka town.

I had no any acquaintances or relatives there, so I was confused about where to go, finally people advised me to go to the Women’s Affairs Office in the town and I did as I was advised. Deciding to leave the area at the time was not easy for me, but I had no any other choice, but to leave the area to save my son’s life. With the support of the women’s affairs office and Save the Children, I was able to stay in the health centre and received the necessary medical check-ups and care so that I could wait for my delivery. Three months later, with the close help of the health workers, I delivered a healthy baby at Demeka health centre. Sometime later, people advised me that I give my child up for adoption, but I refused. Because, I was willing to make any sacrifices to raise my child on my own, even if my child and I were not allowed to return to our home village.

I definitely believe that my son should only grow-up with me. The reason the elders labelled my unborn baby as “Mingi “, was because of the long standing tradition and ritual belief of the people in the area, that this baby was perceived to be conceived from a union that has not been blessed by the local ritual leaders. According to the local traditional belief, if the child is allowed to live, then it will bring death, disease, drought or war to the area and the tribe, therefore the child must die. However, in the past two years, since my baby was born, there were no any drought or disease, death or war in the area. As I also learned it from the community conversation that I attended recently, Mingi is one of the most common harmful traditional practice in our community in Hamer and should be eliminated. When my son was six months old, the office of women’s affairs, Save the Children and other government officials, after a long discussion and negotiation with the ritual leaders in our village, they were able to convince the local leaders that my son and I could return to our home village and live with the community.

Now my son and I are back in our old village and live in peace and happiness. My son has grown-up and is now two years old. He is on his feet and learned some words, like ‘mum give me food’. He also learned to call names of some of the children in the neighbourhood. Sometimes when I see my son laughing and playing, my heart is filled with joy and I thank my God for all he has done for us. I wish my son could grow healthy, happy and get good education and become someone who contribute to improve the life of the local community and his own.

What Save the Children is doing to help

Save the Children has been implementing a project entitled promote the survival and development of children (boys and girls) at risk or affected by harmful traditional practices(HTP), including victims of Mingi, female genital mutilation, and survivors SGBV, children with disability and those children denied of access to basic education in south Omo zone of Ethiopia, (Dasenech, Gniagatom and Hamer Districts). In the last four years, Save the children in partnership with the key government line offices and community structures at grass root level, has been making a relentless effort to reduce the most common traditional harmful practices through a series of public mobilization and awareness-raising programs that is implemented by the project has significantly contributed to the reduction of the practices in the area. So far, the project has reached 760 -community members through awareness raising programs in the area and provided livelihood support to 76 families of Mingi surviving children in the area.