Kenyan officials and aid agencies report that rape and sexual abuse against young girls has increased since pandemic restrictions began with most of the cases perpetrated by relatives.
The Ministry of Health says it has received reports of some 5,000 cases of sexual violence, 65 per cent of young girls, mainly poor. The perpetrators are mostly very close to the victims and don’t believe the abuse is a crime.
Increasing cases of physical abuse of young children are a matter of concern for society and the Indian government has taken stringent steps in this regard.
According to a survey report, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes, which is extremely worrying. Hence, the central government came up with changes to the Protection of Children for Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
The Pocso Act now prescribes the death penalty for those who physically abuses a young girl of up to 12 — an improvement from life imprisonment or seven years. Its scope includes sexual abuse of children under 18.
Kenya might need a similar law to protect its girls, its next generation, its future. It is also the responsibility of society, particularly parents and teachers, to teach children the difference between right and wrong. Talk to children about things we are reluctant to.
Good touch and bad touch should be reported. Children should noisily protest if they do not find somebody’s actions suitable so that they can avoid being exploited. Whenever you teach them about bad touch, openly tell them about private parts.
Tell children about who can touch them and who must not. Only close people like parents, grandparents, elder brothers, sisters, doctors and, sometimes, teachers may touch and cuddle with them. However, other people can also do it but not when alone with the child.
Tell children about parts of the body that are ‘danger zones’ — the genitals, buttocks, the inside of thighs and the chest for girls. Teach them how to react if somebody touches them there (bad touch). This is the trickiest part as children may take it in the wrong way. Tell them to either raise their voice to the maximum and yell for help or run away to a place with many people.
The importance and empowerment of saying ‘No’ is something that initially amuses children but they ultimately understand. But young children need to be taught to say ‘No’ to anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable — even an adult. They should tell someone they trust if somebody does anything that gives them a bad feeling, even if they fear them or are threatened by them.
As rape and sexual abuse cases against young girls increases, the government might need to imitate India. Kenyan parents need to start teaching their kids about the good and the bad touch. Open conversations and programmes can protect and save many children from abuse.
Surjit Singh Flora, Canada