A doting, smiling mother cradles her first born caressing his tiny fingers in her hand. But 16-year-old Affiong Ene Essien is close to tears when she describes her journey to motherhood and says she was almost forced to give up her baby for adoption.
Affiong had been sharing a simple one room rented home in south-east Nigeria's Akwa Ibom State with her mother, her sister and young niece. Her parents say they had no idea about their daughter's pregnancy when she went missing.
"We had hoped she would get a job after completing her secondary school last year," her father Ene Ekpe Essien told the BBC.
Affiong says the father of her child disappeared and cut off contact when she became pregnant. With problems at home, Affiong headed for the city of Calabar in neighbouring Cross River State.
Confused, scared and broke, she was extremely vulnerable. She says she was offered free food, lodging and medical care at a refuge for pregnant teenagers - but on one condition.
"Since I did not have anywhere to go, I had to accept to sign with them that I would give the baby [away] and go."
Refuge Girls Home denies that any of the girls it takes in are ever coerced into signing over their babies.
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Affiong said she was not allowed to use a mobile phone to call anyone and that the only time she was allowed to leave the home was for medical check-ups or to go to church along with other pregnant teenagers.
She says she was escorted to church and after the service had to come straight back to the home.
On 4 August, Affiong delivered her son by caesarean section at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital. Medical staff were soon suspicious that all was not well.
"I wasn't happy and it wasn't to my own mind that I should hand over my first child to the government," said Affiong, who told me that an employee of the home threatened her.
"The woman said that if I think of carrying that baby and running away then they were going to arrest me and jail me."
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One doctor has chosen to speak out after discovering that some babies are being removed from the hospital even before their mothers are discharged.
"When I came in I discovered that everybody was in a state of panic - scared. They were talking in hushed tones," said Dr Elihu Osim.
"The truth was that young Affiong was worried about her child being taken away from her. She was frantic and had been crying all day and that's how the nurses got to know there was a problem.
"She was hysterical. She was not just weeping, not just sad because of what was going to happen to her baby but she was scared of what would happen to her. It was a double tragedy," said Dr Osim.
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Dr Osim helped reunite Affiong with her parents and they all tell me they are proud of the latest addition to the family.
"When I remember the pain and I turn around and see my son I am always happy," said Affiong, taking it in turns with her mother to hold Daniel.
"At least even if I'm not going to have any child again, I have one and that will always make me happy."
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Nigerian Mother's Battle to Keep Her Baby
From the BBC: