Abuse, neglect batter lives of Kenyan children
What you need to know:
- The most distressing calls came from Kenya’s richest counties — Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru and Kisumu.
- Sexual abuse is the third most reported form of violation on children, accounting for 23 per cent (303) of all cases.
For a month, the neighbours begged Pascal’s older siblings to take their ailing three-year-old brother to the hospital, to no avail.
By the time the children’s department stepped in to rescue the unconscious child, his body had been ravaged by HIV, malnutrition and tuberculosis.
For the month that Pascal fought for his life at the intensive care unit at Kenyatta National Hospital, his siblings never set foot in hospital to visit him. Eventually, the little boy died.
In Nairobi alone, 255 other children have gone through the same harrowing experience of abuse and neglect since January this year.
By the time the year ends, that number will have risen to thousands.
Data from ChildLine, a non-governmental organisation that runs a child abuse helpline, shows that 1,296 cases of child abuse were reported through more than 800 calls made to the helpline, housed within the department of children’s services in Lower Kabete Children’s Home, near Nairobi.
The most distressing calls came from Kenya’s richest counties — Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru and Kisumu.
There were 98 reported cases from Kiambu County, 83 from Nakuru, 59 from Kisumu, and 59 from Kakamega, in addition to Nairobi’s 255.
The abuse, which is often ignored or, when noticed, attracts a lethargic response at best, is often in the form of sexual assault, beatings, emotional torment, neglect and abandonment, and child labour.
A large portion of the abuse (97 per cent) is perpetrated by people the victims trust, such as parents and step-parents, siblings, teachers, or the clergy.
This echoes the findings of a study by the government, which, while mapping out abuse in Kenya, noted that fathers and mothers were the most common perpetrators of violence against children.
Last year, four-year-old Millicent became a casualty of a feud between her mother and the man she was dating.
She was left sleeping alone in the house at night as her mother went out for some merriment with her boyfriend.
The man later crept up on the little girl and defiled her. She was so injured that she needed restorative surgery for her sexual organs, with the medical costs running into a million shillings.
After months in hospital, Millicent was put under the care of her maternal grandmother, who had no clue how to care for her grandchild’s infected wound.
As a result, Millicent had to undergo additional surgery. The girl’s mother was jailed for two years for neglecting her daughter and exposing her to abuse, but little is known about what became of the defiler, even though the case was reported to the police.
Sexual abuse is the third most reported form of violation on children, accounting for 23 per cent (303) of all cases.
Physical abuse (356) and neglect (313) are the two most rampant, with one in every two cases (52 per cent) reported as either neglect or physical abuse. Despite the horror of the crimes, justice never comes swiftly... or at all.
Rita Munyae, a programmes manager at ChildLine, thinks there is a grand cover-up by the people closest to the children.
“There are women who would never report anyone who abuses their children out of pressure from the community around them, or out of fear that seeking justice will break their homes,” she says.
One such case involved 12-year-old Angela who was repeatedly defiled by her father, a guard in Nairobi.
During the day when his wife was away working as a waitress, the man would send his sons to the shop so that he could be left alone to defile his daughter.
However, one fateful afternoon, he did not notice that the children had come back and were watching him as he violated their sister.
When his wife confronted him about the incident, he rained blows on her.
Unperturbed, the woman reported the beating and the defilement of her daughter to the police.
However, her relatives condemned her for reporting the case and urged her to settle the matter out of court.
Michael Roy Ageng’o, a lawyer who specialises in children’s cases, says the silencing of witnesses is a major impediment to justice for victims.
“Defilement cases should not be settled out of court… but once the primary witnesses of the abuse are silenced, you have no case as a lawyer,” he explains.
Mr Ageng’o adds that while the judicial system has made several steps to make the legal process pro-children, there are still many loopholes that make it hard to get convictions that are fair to the victims.
“For one, cases take so long that the abused child forgets what happened over time as she tries to cope with the abuse,” he says.
Bribery and corruption have also been cited in delayed or denied justice for children.
It is not unusual to hear that a file has gone missing or that a magistrate has been transferred, and when a new one comes in, the case has to be heard afresh.
“Sometimes the victims throw their hands up in despair in the face of these shenanigans and leave it to God to make good,” Ageng’o adds.
A study by a Canadian researcher on the operations of the children’s department in Kisumu showed that children’s officers do not consider the experiences of the child when collecting evidence on the case.
The study noted that sometimes the children’s officers recommend that the children be taken back to the very place where they were abused.
However, one children’s officer at Kisumu, who cannot be named because she is not authorised to speak to the press, revealed that the department is underfunded, making it hard to do follow-ups on cases of child abuse.
“Moreover, sometimes you call all the children’s homes to take in a rescued child, but none have space… what do you do in such a case?” she posed.
Names of children changed to protect their identities for ethical and legal reasons.