What you need to know:
- After being raped by a stranger at her friend's house in Mathare, Jacky carried her baby to term.
- She wanted to procure an abortion, but her mother talked her out of the idea.
On a lazy weekend afternoon in November 2020, Jacky, 12, (real name withheld) was at her friend’s home in Mathare, watching television.
Her friend stepped out to buy an item at a nearby shop. Her attention on the screen was broken by a young man who had entered the room without Jacky noticing.
He murmured an awkward greeting before sitting beside her. Seemingly sure that no one was coming, he began touching her, forced himself on her and then escaped.
Reeling from the pain and shock of the rape, Jacky gathered herself and ran back home to her mother, who took her to the police station to report the assault.
“When we got there, the police said that since the incident occurred at a place that isn’t my home, with no witnesses, collecting evidence would be hard, so they would find it hard to investigate,” Jacky told the Nation.
“We went to the hospital, and I was given medicine to protect me from HIV infection.”
Jacky carried her baby to term. She gave birth to her daughter through a caesarian section.
“I wanted an abortion, but my mother was scared I might die from the procedure,” she said.
Her breasts had only just started to develop, making breastfeeding almost impossible. While breastfeeding she developed a blister on one breast, and needed to have an operation. The surgery now means her baby can only feed from one of her breasts.
Jacky’s community has seen a rise in child rapes, which has led to mobs of men gathering in the streets to find the alleged rapists. Once the mobs find the alleged offenders, they are often beaten, and in some instances die from their injuries.
Killed by a mob
“Months later, we heard people screaming outside my home that a thief had been killed by a mob. When I got to the scene, the body of my rapist and father of my daughter stared back at me,” Jacky said.
“I ran home to tell my mother. When we told the police at the station, they said that the man had been accused by different people of committing rape. But he was dead, and so we couldn’t seek justice in court.”
In a statement about gender-based violence, Prof Margaret Kobia, Cabinet secretary for Public Service and Gender, noted that by June 2020, more than 100 cases of child rape had been recorded in the Nairobi region in just five months.
Nairobi County, home to the capital city of Nairobi, is among five counties to report the highest prevalence of this form of violence against children.
“I am bitter because he made my first experience of intimacy horrible. Some days I look at my baby and feel angry,” Jacky said.
“I miss school and wish to go back. My father says I got pregnant because I was reckless with boys. My mother cries and begs him to stop treating me badly. She tells him it was not my fault, but I don’t know if he believes her. I don’t like men now; I just want to raise my baby.”
Njeri wa Migwi is a gender rights activist who co-founded Usikimye Safe Haven, a safe house for survivors of child sexual abuse. She explains that in one year, she takes in about 100 children who have suffered sexual and gender-based violence.
Some sex abuse cases are reported through the safe house’s helpline or from the police. Others are made through direct referrals from hospitals and child trafficking alerts.
“The youngest child we have received was one month old, and she was defiled when she was only four days old. We rescued a three-year-old a month later. The oldest was 18,” Ms Migwi said.
Child sexual abuse
“Every morning, children are prepared for school, while the younger ones are sent to a play group. In the afternoons, they go through play therapy to work through their trauma, then they attend psychological counselling on Wednesdays and Saturdays,” she said.
“The form of trauma depends on the form of abuse. However, most are from rape, molestation or child trafficking. The effects of trauma that we have noticed include selective mutism, where the child doesn’t talk, nightmares, flashbacks, crying and anti-social behaviour.”
She added: “Because most children were abused by people they know, they have a lot of trust issues. They can see a man walk into the safe house and run away. Some do not want to be touched or talked to by men.”
Despite the benefits the safe house offers these children, Ms Migwi said she had not received any financial support from the government. She relies on crowdfunding and sometimes uses her own money to run it.
Addressing gender-based violence against children and child sexual abuse in Nairobi, Ms Migwi said these violations had been a problem for a long time, but the pandemic was responsible for exposing them.
The work has also affected Ms Migwi’s own mental health, and she was diagnosed with secondary trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which she did not have before she began her work helping children who had been sexually abused.
“I have come to the conclusion that we don’t love children. We beat them almost to death or molest them. In this society they are supposed to be seen and never heard,” she said.
“To end this menace, the government needs to roll out impactful conversations. We need to go to the villages, hold chief’s barazas. We should go from door to door teaching people about [gender-based violence] and how it affects us as a country.
“The government should also increase the capacity for people like us who are private stakeholders to be able to handle the work they should be doing.”
Safe space for children
Cases of violence against children increased after the onset of the pandemic because children were left unattended and unprotected at home, said Timothy Ekesa, director of the Kenya Alliance for
Advancement of Children, a non-governmental organisation in Nairobi.
“School is a safe space for children, but closing them for nine months exposed them to violence and online platforms, where pedophiles disguised as friends waited. Now, we need to make child protection everyone's business,” he said.
Childline Kenya, an organisation that works with the government to stop child abuse, says 1,493 children were assaulted countrywide during the pandemic. Of those, 1,410 were girls, 62 boys and the remainder did not disclose their gender. In Nairobi County alone, 188 cases were reported.
“The average age was 10 to 15, the youngest was two years old, and the oldest was 17 years old. The perpetrators were immediate family members, neighbours, teachers and strangers,” said Martha Sunda, the director of the organisation.
Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit, from the Anglican Church of Kenya, blames the rise in child sexual abuse on poverty and the erosion of traditional value systems. Families living under the poverty line face increasing pressure to hire out their children as domestic workers and other jobs to help bring money home.
Pedophiles have seized this opportunity and are increasingly coercing children into a life of abuse with the offer of work.
“We need to acknowledge that there is a problem, so that we can find a solution. Parents should interact with their children beyond homework so they can spot the danger signs and address them effectively,” Archbishop Sapit said.
“As part of a national ethos, every organisation needs to subscribe to a national policy of child protection and a ‘vulnerable groups’ protection policy, and enforce it. To heal wounded children, we need to have robust counselling sessions to address their mental trauma. But mostly, we need God.”