The first incident of maternal filicide I recall encountering here occurred in the 90s, when a young woman killed her newborn baby by throwing him into a latrine. A singer had even made a song in which the mother was vilified.
However, maternal filicide is more common than we would like to imagine or accept. There have been many cases across the world.
In 1994, Dora Luz Buenrostro killed her three children by stabbing them. In 1998, she was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death.
In 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in a bath tub because she heard voices. She was suffering from post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis.
In 2003, Deanna Laney woke in the middle of the night and took her eight-year-old son into their backyard, where she stoned him to death. She then did the same to her six-year-old son. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and part of her defense was that God told her to do it.
Gigi Jordan killed her autistic son in 2010 by giving him a drug cocktail. Her defense was that it was a mercy killing to prevent him from being sexually abused.
Hu Chen threw both her children into traffic in 2014 during an argument with her husband. Her 14-month-old was killed by a truck but the six-year-old survived.
Mitchelle Blair killed her 13-year-old daughter and a year later killed her nine-year-old son. Both of them were kept in her freezer until the gruesome discovery was made in 2015. She claimed her 13-year-old was sexually abusing a younger sibling and that another child had complained that the nine-year-old molested them. Tried and convicted, she has never expressed remorse.
And there are many others. Not all were found to be mentally ill, however, it is difficult to fathom that any sane woman would want to end the life of her child/children and so it might be more comforting to believe that all such cases are as a result of mental illness.
Whatever we believe, a tragedy occurred when 26-year-old Brenda Ferreira, of Foulis-Enmore, killed her three-year-old son Ramdeo Mahadeo by stabbing him last week. It was reported that Ferreira had a dream that she would die that day and wanted her favourite child in the afterlife with her.
Whether Ferreira is suffering from a mental disorder is still to be determined. What I do know is that many mothers suffer in silence from conditions such as post-partum depression and never get the help they need in this country. Sometimes relatives and friends are aware but ignore the signs until the worse happens. For those of us who have never walked in the shoes of women who suffer, it is difficult to understand their struggles, but we can empathize.
According to reports, Ferreira has lived a troubled life which started in her teens when she left her home in the Pomeroon. She had entered a relationship with a young man in her teens only later to become involved with her father-in-law. They had two children. It was reported that she is an alcoholic and abused the children. The people in her community accepted her behaviour as normal though it was also reported that the Childcare and Protection Agency was alerted to the abuse and visited the family home but never encountered anyone during three visits. The fingers will now be pointed as to who should take the blame. Children are abused every day in the name of discipline but most times it does not end in their death. Many people are outraged that Ramdeo has been killed, but many of those same people believe that corporal punishment is necessary in raising our nation’s children. It can be assumed that the Childcare and Protection Agency failed Ramdeo and his brother when they never returned. Time and time again the services in place to help our people fail them.
Unfortunately, many Guyanese are affected by mental disorders, but most perhaps never receive the help they need.
According to the National Mental Health Action Plan 2015-2020, 10 to 15% of Guyanese suffer from a mental disorder at some point. That means that 78,000 to 114,500 Guyanese suffer from a mental disorder that requires some level of mental service.
It goes on to say that 3 to 5% of our population has severe chronic disorders and that approximately 20,000 Guyanese suffer from severe mental illness. Depression has also been identified as the fifth greatest contributor in Guyana.
We have seen the “mad” or “crazy” people as we like to refer to them on the street; smelly, dirty, and in tattered clothes or sometimes in the nude. We have been offended by their presence, annoyed when they ask for help, have been amused by their conversations with imaginary friends and have been frightened by the violent ones. Some of us do whatever we can to help them, but the mistake many of us make is to believe that those are the only people who represent those suffering from mental illness in our country. They are in our homes, work places, schools and religious institutions.
While as aforementioned it has not been determined whether Ferreira suffers from a mental disorder, I choose not to judge though her crime cannot be excused.
Many have called her a cold-blooded killer and are calling for her to be imprisoned or executed. It is timely to recall the case of 25-year-old Hofosawa Awena Rutherford, who in 2014 killed her 16-month-old son and four-year-old daughter by poisoning them. She was in a dispute with the father of the children. In April of this year, she was sentenced to 98 years in prison. Many believe that she needed psychological help instead of being locked away for the rest of her life.
The case of Ferreira has furthered the conversation about the need for comprehensive mental health care and education about it in our country. Mental health care must become a community effort to save those suffering and the stigma must fade. It can happen to any of us. We must stand together.