What you need to know:
- I9-year-old from Gatwikira, Kibra, was accosted by a group of young men who threatened her with a knife before dragging her into an isolated house where the four gang-raped her.
- While there have been measures to contain such incidents in the slums, challenges including proliferation of Kangaroo courts and delayed response by authorities still abound.
- The perpetrators do not get arrested and for those who we manage to prosecute, the court cases drag for long.
- A 12-year-old recently defiled by a 16-year-old who was considered a minor and easily got off the hook.
For *Betty Ondisa, a student at Elite Vision High School in Kibra, the late-night celebrations to usher in the New Year on December 31, 2019 presaged scars that still linger months later.
On her way home, the 19-year-old, who lives in Gatwikira, was accosted by a young man known for petty crimes. He threatened her with a knife before dragging her into an isolated house where he, and three other men gang-raped her.
One man in the group, she says, “…did not rape me. He ‘sympathised with me.”
All the perpetrators, except one, looked familiar and while some of the culprits were later arrested, she occasionally meets some of them in the neighbourhood.
Cases of gender-based violence (GBV) have been on the rise in the slums, especially in the wake of the pandemic, according to data collected by Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco) a community-based initiative established in urban slums in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa.
And while there have been measures to contain the scourge, challenges including proliferation of Kangaroo courts and delayed response by authorities still abound, according to Caroline Sakwa, the gender director at the organisation.
In informal settlements, the issue happens in much more than the usual implicit forms like domestic violence, child abuse and defilement. It extends to emotional abuse, physical assault, negligence, sodomy, indecent acts, trafficking and attempted defilement among others according to her.
“And an even bigger challenge is that the perpetrators do not get arrested. For those who we manage to prosecute, the court cases drag for long.
“In other cases, there are no mechanisms in place to find redress for the victims. The authorities are failing us in a way,” she says.
Ms Sakwa cites a recent defilement case of a 12-year-old in which one of the perpetrators was a 16-year-old who was considered a minor and easily got off the hook.
According to the department, which has been spearheading the drive to fight GBV in a number of urban slums, the rise in cases at the onset of the pandemic has largely been due to the lengthened period in which households stay together mainly in cramped spaces. Majority of the habitations are only a few square feet in size.
The situation has been heightened by consequent job losses leading to high stress levels and hence wanton irritability.
“It is true there has been a surge in GBV cases in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And while the government directs all efforts in the fight against the disease, GBV blatantly continues to rear its ugly head,” says Margaret Ochieng’, the gender coordinator at the organisation’s gender department.
From January to May – two months into the period in which the disease had been confirmed in the country – they received 504 cases in the neighbourhood alone, which pales in relation to similar durations in the previous years.
And at the rate, Ms Ochieng’ feels the cases could way exceed the 1,000 mark by the end of the year.
“And these are just the reported cases. Many others go unreported because of fear and intimidation and lack of empowerment,” says Ms Ochieng’.
The biggest problem, Ms Sakwa adds, is that many perpetrators remain free, exposing the victims and others to the perpetrators. She adds that community perception regarding the issue leads to them protecting rather than reporting perpetrators.
Their efforts to control the vice are further hampered by lack of legal representation of the victims and the incorporation of informal courts to pay off victims to drop their charges continue.
In 2017, according to data they collected, 636 cases were reported to them, in 2018 it went up to 724, while in 2019 they received 825 cases.
While these increases can be attributed to the fact that many know that they should report any form of GBV to authorities, the spike during the pandemic portends a worrisome trend.
For 30-year-old Prisca Vieliza, her pregnancy with her second child in 2018, what would ordinarily be perceived a blessing, marked the genesis of her tribulations.
Living with her husband of five years and their six-year-old son in Nairobi’s Kawangware area, her spouse sent her to their rural home to deliver from there.
She obliged and went to their rural home in Nyang’ori, Vihiga County, where she had an uneventful delivery.
When she sought to come back to Nairobi a few months later, however, her husband who had hitherto gone silent, could not be reached.
Ultimately, she found out that he had married someone else. Ms Vieliza was now stranded with two children, no money, homeless and at the mercy of the rough city.
That evening, she was forced to ‘get married’ to the first man she met – a boda boda rider. She, consequently got ‘married’ to four other men in a span of five months.
“I had no choice because I was desperate,” she says.
This was after the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the country, and the lockdown was in place, so she had nowhere to go.
She says the ‘husbands’ took advantage of her desperation and abused her before kicking her and her children out.
She ended up roaming the streets during the day, and spending the nights in a roadside shack, where she stayed for several weeks before help came.
“I even came close to ‘marrying’ one who was frank enough to first reveal that he was HIV positive, if I was okay with the arrangement,” she says.
During this time, she says depression mounted and countless times she thought of taking her own life.
Despite reporting them to the local chief and the police, those who abused her in the short-lived ‘marriages’ still go about their businesses, freely.
She is, however, grateful she was afforded accommodation and provisions in a safe-house where she now stays with her two children.