In total, 49 women and 48 men participated in 12 focus groups in 6 communities, with an average of 8 people in each group. All the group participants were married, with ages ranging from 15-35 years for women, and 25-45 years for men. Few of the group members had beyond primary education, and many of the women did not have any formal education.
All participants in the focus groups were familiar with the concept of kunika and had clear ideas about what it is. They agreed it means having a short interval between two successive births, or giving birth frequently.
Kunika means a woman frequently giving birth and the children end up growing together like twins. (Female focus group)
Many people referred to a woman becoming pregnant while lactating, before she has weaned her previous child.
Oh! I think kunika is a situation where a child is not properly breastfed. The mother becomes pregnant while the baby is still sucking breast milk. (Female focus group)
An infant at hand and an infant in the womb at the same time. This is kunika - getting pregnant before weaning. (Male focus group)
Some mentioned the failure of lactational amenorrhoea as a cause of kunika.
Kunika is when a woman is menstruating after delivery, and suddenly she gets pregnant. (Female focus group)
A few defined kunika in terms of months or years between births.
Kunika is giving birth to two children within two years. (Everybody started laughing) two years, indeed! (Female focus group)
Kunika is having another pregnancy after delivery by one, two, three or four months. (Male focus group)
Others defined kunika by reference to the development of the existing child.
Kunika is when the previous child has not yet started walking and the mother becomes pregnant again. (Female focus group)
Perceived disadvantages of kunika
All the groups were clear and vocal that kunika was negative, with many disadvantages.
There is nothing good about kunika (Female focus group)
You know, anything regretful is not a good thing (Male focus group)
They described disadvantages and dangers of kunika for the pregnant woman, the baby, the husband, and the family at large.
Health complications for the mother
Participants in all the groups considered that kunika is harmful for the mother and leads to medical complications. They referred to the many physical health problems experienced by “kunika women”, the local term for women who become pregnant soon after their last delivery.
Kunika women are always sick. Sometimes they find it very difficult during delivery. (Female focus group)
Indeed, some women have to undergo c-section because they have complications
during delivery. (Female focus group)
When a woman has kunika she may even die during delivery because she will lose a lot of blood. (Female focus group)
Whenever a woman gives birth her uterus becomes weak. If she frequently gives birth, it will become weaker and weaker. (Male focus group)
It sometimes causes miscarriage or forces the woman to abort the pregnancy. This may lead to danger for both the child and the mother. (Male focus group)
It leads to losing their life, both mother and the child. (Male focus group)
Group participants also mentioned mental health problems for kunika women. They said that kunika women are stressed and may become depressed and unable to take care of themselves and their babies.
She will be in a lot of tension, especially when she is watching her child become malnourished because of a lack of breast milk. (Female focus group)
The woman will be depressed and the child won’t get much attention. (Male focus group)
Kunika makes a young girl to look older than her age. (Male focus group)
Health complications for the new child
Focus group participants referred to children born after too short a birth interval as “kunika children” and agreed that these children face health risks.
Kunika children die because of malnutrition. (Female focus group)
A kunika baby has frequent diarrhoea, running nose, malaria and other diseases. (Female focus group)
It becomes a calamity. I once heard that a woman, who had experienced frequent kunika, was terribly worried about the health of her children. She prayed to God to spare even one of her children, because they were all sick. (Male focus group)
Kunika children fall sick more often than non-kunika children. They develop deformities. (Male focus group)
Health complications for the preceding child
Participants also highlighted health risks for the preceding child, since the mother will have to wean this child early when she becomes pregnant again.
Even though the baby is small, the mother will have to wean him or her early. This can make the baby sick and sometimes it leads to the death of the baby. (Female focus group)
It affects the child’s health because the child is taken away from breast feeding while he is not taking any solid food. Therefore, malnutrition and deficiency is definitely going to occur. (Male focus group)
Apart from early weaning, some people pointed out that the preceding child is neglected and poorly because the mother herself is ill and weak, and unable to look after the child.
Ahh! The pregnant woman will be very weak and the child she is nursing will be weak
and malnourished at the same time. (Female focus group)
Definitely, the pregnant woman will neglect her baby. She can’t cope with the stress of pregnancy and taking care of an infant. (Female focus group)
Participants explained that pregnancies at short intervals create a big financial burden on the family. With more dependent people to feed on the same income, families may suffer food shortage. Families of kunika women also spend more on health care for the pregnant woman and her children, because of the health impacts of kunika on women and their children.
Even if the husband is well-to-do, kunika will make him poor because he has to make double efforts to take care of the child, the pregnant woman and the unborn child. (Female focus group)
It causes poverty because you will sell all your food stuff to get money so that you can settle the hospital bill. You will become poor, you will not have food to feed the remaining children, and the sick one may die, so it’s really a terrible thing. (Male focus group)
The increased financial burden mainly affects men, who are the main breadwinners. They struggle to keep up with the demands of a rapidly growing family, as well as having to provide money for naming ceremonies of children born in quick succession.
Let me tell you something: even the husband will not be able to take care of his family. Kunika causes families to become very large. (Female focus group)
The responsibility of the naming ceremony and other expenses falls on the man. Any time you get kunika, you will get sad and frustrated. The man will just hate the woman. (Male focus group)
Impact on men’s health
Male focus group participants highlighted how kunika may cause mental and even physical health problems for men as well as women.
The man suffers a lot when there is kunika in the house. (Male focus group)
The father will be depressed, and may end up with hypertension. (Male focus group)
In fact, it reduces the strength of manhood. (Male focus group)
Deterioration of family dynamics
Participants frequently expressed that kunika creates discord and friction within the family, and they described mechanisms for this. The husband is under stress to provide for a large family. The money is not enough for his growing family and he has to look for an added source of income. He doesn’t take care of his wife, and starts neglecting her. The wife, on the other hand, is weak and neglects her children and her house. She is frequently ill and might be depressed. All this creates a toxic environment in the family.
My sister, kunika contributes to family conflicts. The husband doesn’t care about the needs of his wife during pregnancy, she is left to suffer and bear the consequences alone. (Female focus group)
It leads to misunderstanding between husband and wife. She may not perform her domestic responsibilities very well because she has a little infant and she is pregnant as well, and her husband still needs her to do the work. You see, there will be a conflict. (Male focus group)
The frequent pregnancies can lead to sexual problems between the man and the woman. The man may lose interest in his frequently pregnant wife. The tired and depressed woman might lose interest in the husband. The husband might force sex with the wife.
The husband loses attention of his wife and the wife also loses attention of her husband. There is no love. (Female focus group)
Which husband will love a pregnant woman when she is heavy, weak and clumsy? (Female focus group)
My sister, all men are dirty, but no husband wants to come close to a dirty or smelling wife. (Female focus group)
It triggers conflict between couples because most times a man forces his wife or insists to have sex with her, and since she is pregnant she will be upset. (Male focus group)
Kunika women are perceived as being lazy and dirty and failing to look after their households properly.
When a woman is doing kunika, her problems are too many. She is sick every day and her house is always dirty. (Female focus group)
Your fellow women will be teasing you. They will say: Kunika women are lazy and
dirty. (Female focus group)
It causes a woman to be dirty with her clothes, and her environment. The child also will not have proper care. (Male focus group)
Children in kunika households suffer from lack of food, lack of care, and overcrowding.
With kunika it is the children who suffer; they don’t get enough food and care. (Female focus group)
It is not conducive when there are many children: there is no place to lay their heads, sleeping becomes a problem. (Female focus group)
Because the baby is neglected, older children beat up the new baby. (Female focus group)
The focus groups noted that kunika is not socially accepted in their communities. People make fun of kunika women. One reason for this might be that people associate kunika with frequent sexual activity, which in a conservative society like Bauchi would be a matter of shame and embarrassment.
Women who do kunika are considered as hyper-sexual. Therefore, they are
shamed. (Female focus group)
A kunika woman is always ashamed of herself. Sometimes she doesn’t even want her family to know that she is doing kunika. (Female focus group)
When they see your children, they will say, ‘Hey, look at those kunika children. (Male focus group)
People will look at you, mocking you and the family. (Male focus group)
Why kunika still happens, despite its disadvantages
Asked about advantages of kunika, focus group participants said that they did not consider it had advantages at all. The facilitators probed further, asking why it still happens, despite nearly everyone believing it to be a bad thing, with many adverse consequences. The discussion focused on three areas: some people choose kunika; kunika is an unintentional consequence of frequent sexual activity; and kunika is simply the Will of God.
Some people choose kunika
Focus group participants identified several reasons why people might choose kunika.
A desire to have a large family
For some people, having more children translates as having more helping hands in the family. Children help with household chores, and they earn money when they grow up. For some men, a larger family is a source of pride.
It is just for having more children to reduce a work load within the household. (Male focus group)
If a man has more children, they will help him with many activities. (Male focus group)
Men who want to have plenty of children like to do kunika. (Female focus group)
Yes, some are even proud to have a large family. (Male focus group)
Women wanting to complete their families quickly
Some women practise kunika because it helps them complete their families quickly, either at the beginning of their reproductive life or if they marry late.
Some women want to give birth at an early age and rest. (Female focus group)
It is an advantage for a woman to do kunika to complete her deliveries quickly otherwise it takes her a long time before she completes her family. (Male focus group)
Some people marry late. Kunika is an advantage for them to get more children quickly. (Male focus group)
Co-wives competing with each other
Polygamy is usual in Bauchi and focus group participants identified competition between co-wives to have more children as a reason why they might practise kunika. Wives with more children are entitled to a larger share of their husband’s property.
Women do kunika for competition. They gather a lot of children quickly so that they may benefit from inheritance. (Male focus group)
Co-wives may also compete with each other for their husband’s attention and care. The wife who gives birth in quick succession is seen as the one who has his love and attention.
Some women do kunika because they want to ensure that they are loved by their husbands. (Female focus group)
Kunika happens unintentionally because of frequent sexual contact
Participants in men’s groups said that kunika happens because men have frequent sex with their wives. They may force their wives to have sex with them.
See, different people have different levels of sexual desire. A man who has high desire won’t give any break (to his wife) and he will enjoy himself. (Male focus group)
As Muslims, if a man wants to have sex with his wife, whether she likes it or not, she must obey. If she doesn’t obey, she will be among the people on whom Allah’s wrath will fall. (Male focus group)
Participants in women’s groups blamed men for forcing sex on their wives.
It is the men that are lacking self control. How will you deny a man his rights if he demands? No way at all. (Female focus group)
Let me tell you my sister, the husband is the chief and master of kunika. If he stops doing it, the woman won’t have kunika. (Female focus group)
Kunika is the Will of God
Some women expressed the view that kunika was not something within their control.
Kunika is bad but if Allah gives you, there is nothing you can do. (Female focus