What you need to know:
- Twelve-year-old 'Cynthia Akinyi' defiled by 36-year-old cousin who took up the guardian role after her mother died.
- Fourteen- year-old 'Fiona Atieno' taken in by a well-wisher on the blessings of her divorced mother; pastor became a saviour turned beast and started defiling her.
- Both girls turn 14 this month and have since found shelter at Community Forum for Advanced Sustainable Development - a safe house.
- Fourteen- year-old 'Regina Apiyo' was lured into a tin shop by a man known to her; he ordered her to undress and defiled her, he would use his seat cushions to muzzle her cries for help.
The year is 2018, the grim reaper has descended upon the home of 12-year-old Cynthia Akinyi (not her real name), her mother, the only parent, dies.
Flash-forward, weeks later she is laid to rest in a sombre ceremony, the only relief amidst the grief for the Class Six pupil is the philanthropic offer by the elder cousin to take up the guardian role and see her through her education.
Two years down the line, the benevolent act by the cousin has turned into a nightmare. The cousin, a married man with two children, has been defiling Akinyi.
One Friday morning, an honest mistake by the cousin’s wife to lock out the husband, turned into a nightmare for young Akinyi. The two, Akinyi and the cousin’s wife had left their one-roomed house in Manyatta slums Kisumu to attend the child’s kindergarten graduation ceremony.
“My cousin had to get something from the house and the wife ordered me to head back to the house with the keys to let him in,” narrates Akinyi.
Akinyi never went back to the graduation ceremony as the 36-year-old man would proceed to defile her, threatening her with eviction and other sanctions if she let out the truth.
The orphan, now forced to repeat Class Seven due to her poor performance, months into moving into the cousin’s single-room house in 2018, would be a survivor of incest.
“He would occasionally complain of abdominal pains at night and would request to roll on the floor next to where I was spending the night with his other children,” Akinyi says.
Akinyi's story is no different from that of 14-year-old Fiona Atieno (not her real name), taken in by a well-wisher on the blessings of her divorced mother. The sponsorship deal would see her separated from her mother in Kakamega, to go stay in Nairobi with the guardian.
The pastor became a saviour turned beast and started defiling her.
Atieno’s efforts to raise the matter with her mother fell on deaf ears. She downplayed the matter and repeatedly shut down her daughter by saying: “He is paying your school fees”.
Atieno is seven months pregnant today.
Both girls turn 14 this month and have since found shelter at Community Forum for Advanced Sustainable Development (Cofas) - a safe house.
A sit-down interview with some of the survivors at the centre, some as young as seven, paints a picture of a society whose social fabric has been punctured to a point of no repair.
During breakout sessions with some of the survivors, narrating their harrowing ordeals is an oscillation between the point of the need to tell their stories to the world and the dilemma of not allowing the young souls to relive the moment they would rather forget.
Fourteen- year-old Regina Apiyo (not her real name), one of our first interviewees leads us into an emotional roller-coaster, her attempt to retell the story would leave her soaked in tears. After what seems like eternity and amidst her subdued cries, her mother who sits beside her all this time trying so hard to remain calm takes charge.
Beyond the calmness, the mother of two whose darting eyes tells a different story narrates how her action to send the Class Seven pupil to a posho mill would turn out to be a nightmare.
LURED INTO TIN SHOP
Residents at one of the sprawling slums in Kisumu, the mother of two says Apiyo was lured into a tin shop by a man known to her on the way back.
“He ordered her to undress and went on to defile her, he would use his seat cushions to muzzle her cries for help,” narrates the mother.
The man was arrested, arraigned and eventually freed on bail.
“He has gone ahead to threaten witnesses including the children who caught him in the act. They have since withdrawn their statements. He at one point offered me a bribe,” she says.
The matter is still in court.
Cofas is one of the few overstretched facilities that hosts survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases in Kisumu.
Until recently, only three of 31 privately owned orphanages continued to admit survivors of gender-based violence.
An advocacy and policy lead official at Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) Patricia Nudi, reports that with the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, Cofas remains the only facility that has opened its door to survivors.
“The pandemic has presented us with a situation that we did not foresee. Safe houses that previously admitted survivors would now demand for Covid-19 free certificates as a precaution,” says Ms Nudi.
She notes that the situation is dire and more needs to be done to help survivors of SGBV.
Cofas Program Director Martin Oloo, says the huge breakdown due to inadequate safe houses has forced them to admit victims on a temporary basis of two to three weeks, and prematurely release and integrate them back into the community.
DOMICILED IN SLUMS
“We are currently overstretched and overwhelmed as we play host to 12 girls and women,” he says.
This has seen a majority of the victims mostly domiciled in the slums synonymous with the abusers, continue living side by side, where victims undergo daily trauma and constant threats from their alleged perpetrators.
“With many suspects being released on bond and not retained in prisons as part of Covid-19 containment measures, they continue to threaten families of their victims,” states Mr Oloo.
“It has further presented grounds for witnessing tampering and statement alteration through threats and coercion. Some families in cases of incest have also resorted to settling the matters ‘quietly’,” he adds.
Mr Oloo says they are currently hosting two pregnant girls and will be forced to transfer them to the available facility in Limuru, 310 km away, since they are ill-equipped to handle such cases.
Police reports indicate that in April, 2020, 25 cases of defilement with majority of them incest, were recorded, from Nyalenda, Obunga and Manyatta slums.
Up to 388 cases of defilement were reported between January and April, with the youngest being a three-year-old girl.
The highest number of cases, 159, was reported in March. In July, up to 80 cases had been reported by the second week.
Statistics at the Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre (GBVRC) at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital show that in the last six months, 998 cases including defilement, have been reported with police saying the figure could be higher as many cases go unreported.
Kisumu Central OCPD Martha Ng’etich says many cases go unreported as victims’ families receive threats from their abusers.
Ms Ng’etich says there have been forced disappearance of victims and even perpetrators going at large, which has highly jeopardized justice for the victims.
“We have received reports of the victims’ families being threatened and community instilling fear in families reporting and seeking justice,” Ms Ngetich notes.
Experts have now cited lack of safe houses as a major gap in the SGBV response, adding that community advocates have been forced to stay with victims in their houses due lack of safe spaces.
Equality Now Campaigns Officer Florence Machio, says inadequate shelters present bottlenecks in the search for justice as victims are forced to live among their abusers who might end up defiling them repeatedly as in the case with incest.
This happens even as relatives and friends employ other means to curtail fight for justice, she adds.
The cases have risen sharply due to the pandemic, a vice Ms Machio attributes to lack of financial and social safety nets presented by factors such as curfew hours that force victims to be stuck with violators.
With rise in cases, the county government of Kisumu has come under sharp focus for what experts have termed as the weak link in supporting, through budgetary allocation, such vital safe spaces in the fight against SGBV.
The construction of three safe houses in Kisumu County that began four years ago, has since stalled even after eating up Sh13 million.
Sh10 million was spent to build Tieng're safe house in Kisumu West Sub-county, which was later abandoned and a further Sh3 million gobbled by Ongeche safe house in Nyando Sub-county that was halfway done and abandoned.
The facility in Tieng’re was to host 15 survivors upon completion; with additional services by offering meals, counselling, legal and medical care.
Key staff including a nurse, a clinician, a police officer, a paralegal and a chemist were also to be stationed at the facilities.
A visit by Nation to the Tieng’re facility found a desolate compound of a structure with no equipment. All the five rooms at the facility that sits on half an acre plot were empty.
The projects now remain a pipe dream.