Let us urgently address barriers in the way of justice for SGBV victims

Gender-based Violence

Members of civil society groups mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence in Isiolo town on December 8, 2020. 

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The government’s policy to have these girls in school to continue with their studies is laudable because it gives them a second chance.
  • This, however, does not mean that all the girls who have found themselves in this unfortunate state have gone back to school.

That the country realised an unprecedented rise in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against girls and women in the just-ended weird year 2020 is a fact that we have to live with. 

Although the violence — which has, without a doubt, ruined the lives of dozens of girls, especially — was attributed to Covid-19 and its instigated effects, it calls upon us to be more vigilant in fighting, dealing with and, most importantly, preventing this criminality.

However, it’s imperative to recognise and appreciate the activism and advocacy work that continues to be done, mainly by women’s and children’s rights organisations, individuals and other groups, in support of survivors and victims of SGBV.

In addition, the effort by the government to ensure that pregnant girls and those who have become mothers as a result of this criminality and related situations remain in school is commendable and needs to be appreciated. 

Faced obstacles

The government’s policy to have these girls in school to continue with their studies is laudable because it gives them a second chance at a better future instead of condemning them to a life of uncertainty and doom.

This, however, does not mean that all the girls who have found themselves in this unfortunate state have gone back to school after the awful experience. Dozens of them have faced obstacles such as denunciation, rejection and even stigmatisation by their community and lack of support from family. 

This means their chance at getting an education was dimmed the moment they got pregnant — the circumstances of how that happened notwithstanding. So, as their peers reported back to school this month, these girls have been left behind to stare at a blank future. That is why the government must follow up on such cases, get the girls back to school and help in removing particular obstacles in their way to getting an education. 

And while at it, there is an urgent need to investigate how the minors found themselves in such a situation. Who was behind these child pregnancies? Under what circumstances did they become pregnant? The culprits and accomplices — be they parents, relatives, teachers or anyone else — should not get away with it. They must be punished.

There are many such unresolved cases out there, some pending in the courts for years. The slow pace of the wheels of justice, and a convoluted process, has seen perpetrators get away with their crimes. Consequently, abusers get the nerve to intimidate their victims and family and even have the temerity to repeat the abuse!

This, surely must stop.

I’ve visited safe houses and shelters for abused girls and listened to caretakers sigh with fatigue over their fruitless, expensive, exhaustive and futile journey in search of justice for the survivors. In such situations, they give up and focus on helping the victims heal and lead as normal a life as possible.

Far-reaching transformation

Survivors of defilement and rape arising from incest are among victims who hardly access justice as family members conspire to hide the truth of the abuses that are committed behind the closed doors and high walls of homes that are more or less broken. And as they collude to guard their family’s already soiled name, the victim, mainly girls, are left to forever carry the scar and the hurt alone.

When SGBV victims are unable to get — or are denied — justice, the perpetrators are emboldened, exposing girls and women to further abuse. It’s time we removed the obstacles that hinder survivors from accessing justice.

Let all the institutions of justice take this matter seriously and ensure criminals who perpetrate these crimes are not allowed to roam freely, but are locked up away from civilised society as a deterrent. 

Without a far-reaching transformation, the situation will remain the same as we continue giving lip service to ending the ubiquitous human rights violation that is SGBV.

Ms Rugene, a consulting editor, is founder and executive director of The Woman’s Newsroom Foundation. nrugene@gmail.com. @nrugene

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