Alarm over rise in incest, defilement in Busia

Teen mother. In Western Kenya, the Luhya believe a child born out of incest brings curses to the community, such as mental problems and infertility.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • According to her community, having a child as a result of incest is not only shameful but also a taboo, which can only be overcome by killing the unborn baby.
  • The few who are born are always killed at birth or abandoned in empty compounds, hospitals or public places.

“I would have accepted the baby had it been sired by a mad man, but I can never share a roof with it knowing very well that the father and mother are both my blood,” says Lucy* (not her real name), when we catch up with her at her home in Butula, Busia County. 

For the last three weeks, she has not laid her eyes on her 17-year-old granddaughter and her two-week-old baby, but this does not bother her. Her biggest relief is that she no longer shares a home with a ‘cursed’ child sired by her nephew. 

Just a few months ago, she had been living happily with her granddaughter until her uncle requested to stay with her as she had to trek to school. But when her grandmother called her home late last year, she had been reluctant to travel. 

“I learnt that she was pregnant with my nephew’s child. The girl is my eldest daughter’s child, while the boy’s mother is my elder sister,” says Lucy. 

According to her community, having a child as a result of incest is not only shameful but also a taboo, which can only be overcome by killing the unborn baby. The few who are born are always killed at birth or abandoned in empty compounds, hospitals or public places.

And so upon birth, her close family suggested she dump the infant at the entrance of her uncle’s home. The teenager went ahead to abandon her four-day old baby at her supposed father's gate. But through the intervention of a community-based organisation, the baby girl found its way back to its teen mother.

The stigma at home grew unbearable for the mother, who left days later with the baby and is still missing to date. Sources from the village revealed that the victim’s uncle was, however, cleansed and is now free from the 'curse', unlike the mother.

"I have cut ties with my granddaughter. I no longer want anything to do with her, she is now an outcast," says the grandma. 

Growing concern

The seventeen-year-old is among tens of teen girls in Busia County defiled and impregnated by close relatives who would have instead been their guardian. 

Another victim, Mercy* (not her real name), narrated how her father severely defiled her until she got pregnant. "He would threaten to kill me, my brother, mother and later hang himself if I told anyone.”

When she finally gave birth, her father took away her days-old baby and is suspected to have sold it for adoption. It is now six years since she was separated from her baby, the 20-year-old was also forced out of her home. “My efforts to get married have also not been successful because of the stigma associated with incest."

Just a few kilometres from Lucy's homestead, two secondary schoolgirls had to be rescued from their father who had repeatedly defiled them since childhood. The two were left under his care after their mother left for Nairobi to seek a job as a house help.

The man, a church leader, would often summon them to a 'prayer room' and repeatedly defiled them without being suspected by anyone. The two conceived three times, but the pregnancies were terminated by the father who advised that carrying his child would be shameful.

According to locals, the two had shared with their grandmother how their father would take advantage of them, but she kept asking them to keep quiet so as not to tarnish their father's image.


With the help of neighbours, the father was finally arrested, charged and remanded awaiting conclusion of the case. However, a week ago, the girls’ mother sought to have her husband released. She claimed that close family members had shared that her husband has become sickly and may end up dying and “haunting” the girls for taking legal action against him.

Over the last few years, incest has been a growing concern in Busia County even as cultural beliefs continue to harm young girls and their newborns. While the perpetrators are, in most cases, left free after ‘cleansing’, young innocent girls are left to bear the brunt of what ensues.

Busia County Children's Services coordinator Esther Wasige says one of the major challenges the department is facing is child neglect. "More than 57 per cent of child cases being handled in the county are a result of child neglect, while 4.6 per cent are on abandoned children linked to incest."

From July 2021 to June 2022, the county recorded 82 sexual violence cases, of which only one was attributed to incest. Matayos sub-county has the leading number at 25, while Butula comes fifth with only five cases. Teso North, Nambale and Budalang’i have all reported one case each.

County Children’s Officer Patrick Mukolwe says most incest cases go unreported. "The cases always end up in Kangaroo courts, where families settle the matter with the help of village elders and have the perpetrator cleansed. The elders are also tasked with determining the fate of the child, which, in most cases, is preferred dead."


Meanwhile, the victims also receive threats from family members not to share the secret with anyone or risk being considered outcasts.

Mr Mukolwe argued that as a result, the cases rarely reach the authorities. "Very few people approach us with cases, which, often, end up in court. At this point, it is up to us to seek an alternative custody for the infant."

Some parents opt to move to court to report the perpetrator and once given a P3 form, they use it to get money from the offenders, who are often scared of imprisonment.

The Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme director Mary Makokha said most families prefer hiding incest cases to save the reputation of the perpetrator, who may be their sole breadwinner.

Ms Makokha noted that the perpetrators often instil fear in the minors, who then keep the issue secret until when it is late. The organisation has recorded 142 defilement cases from June 2021 to July 2022, with 13 incest cases.

“Society has continued to avoid speaking about such issues as many innocent girls suffer in silence. Once conceived, every child has a right to life and should never be denied at any time,” said Ms Makokha, who is also vying for Busia woman representative.

In an effort to end the untimely deaths, the county has now set up child protection units in all sub-counties but Butula to ensure the perpetrators are brought to book. It is also working on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) policy, which, when adopted by the county assembly, will help reduce cases.

According to data from the national hotline number, 1195, released in August 2021, 75 per cent of incest cases occur at home.

Fifty-nine of the 160 incest cases reported in the country in the past three years were committed by fathers, mostly at home (48). The data was from January 2018 to June 2021.

Some attackers violated the girls at home, others in the bush. Others did so in a public place and in some cases, the girls would not name the place where they were violated.

The data further revealed that uncles are the second leading incest offenders, committing 36 of the cases, followed by stepfathers (20), cousins (16), grandfathers (14), brothers seven and brothers in law, five.