What you need to know:
- Gender experts believe the online lessons will help them when people intend to violate their sexual rights.
- The same information can help other minors from falling prey to sex pests as the beneficiaries are equipped with skills and knowledge of how to respond and are able to advise and help GBV survivors.
A group of 225 learners from three primary schools in Homa Bay have been enrolled on a programme that uses technology to enhance their response to sexual offences and gender-based violence (GBV).
The pupils from Lake Primary, Wahamba and Got Rabuor have received tablets, which they use to learn about sexual violence and what should be done in case they are offended or witness someone else being violated.
Gender experts believe the online lessons will help them when people intend to violate their sexual rights. The same information can help other minors from falling prey to sex pests as the beneficiaries are equipped with skills and knowledge of how to respond and are able to advise and help GBV survivors.
The programme is called 160 Girls Project and is being implemented by Equality Effect Organisation through Community Aids Transformation Alliance Group, a NGO dealing with child protection. Homa Bay, Kilifi and Kwale are the only counties implementing it.
Ms Patricia Simiyu, the programme officer at the organisation, says the children have become ambassadors in the fight against GBV as they sensitise their communities, through a biweekly series of publications, to gender issues. Some of them also sensitise schoolchildren to defilement and its prevention.
The learners, aged 10 to 15, are undertaken through six-month training. They are taught how to use the electronics under the virtual justice curriculum. At least 12 lessons are contained in the machines, including background information about the programme.
According to Ms Simiyu, the idea came after a GBV survivor lost a case in court because of shallow investigations. “The court told security offices to ensure they conduct professional and proper investigations in cases of sexual offences to prosecute perpetrators. We began by training police officers and now training children to be champions in their communities for them to report cases of sexual offences.”
Homa Bay has one of the highest incidence of defilement. Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2022 report ranked the county at 23 per cent (third nationally).
Gender activists are optimistic that the new approach will help tackle the vice, which continues to taint the image of the devolved unit.
Some of the issues the children learn are signs to look out for if someone is violated and whom to report to. “We want beneficiaries to be able to speak to their peers and learn about challenges they go through. Boys, too, should be involved in this as they are equally at risk of being sexually abused," Ms Simiyu says.
The lesson also includes defilement investigations steps and what should be done if a child finds herself or himself sexually abused. Part of what they learn is how to collect evidence, which is crucial to court prosecution.
"We encourage them to seek help from hospital and police and ensure the case is followed through the justice system. We have told the children that they have no capacity whatsoever to consent to sex," Ms Simiyu says.
Other lessons are titled ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ and the topics use pictures that are relevant to children to explain in simple terms what they should know about their rights. Some minors are not aware that they should raise the alarm if someone touches their private parts.
The beneficiaries are encouraged to report such matters to their parents or an adult they trust. And should they witness a sexual offence, they are told not to shame the survivors. They have further been taught about signs to look for in case their friends have been defiled, including change in normal body function, withdrawal and other unusual behaviours.
"We give tips on how to support survivors. If someone goes to them, we encourage them to take them to a police station and ensure the case is taken through the court system because out of betrayal, some cases may be mishandled by police or their teachers," Ms Simiyu says.
“We want the children to know that there are toll-free numbers to call for help. We do not encourage observation of justice and the information is provided in a language that is easy to understand.
“Different departments have been incorporated into the initiative. For example, the police and the children’s services department help us in tracing survivors to get justice.”
County Children’s Services director Peter Kutere says the information should be shared with all learners as they are equally at risk of being preyed on. He says the approach also involves parents as they have been enlightened on what issues they need to share with their children.
“At times children have problems because they cannot ask their parents for help. The initiative builds strong support for the children as they learn about issues affecting them."
Mr Kutere says the use of technology, besides equipping the children with information on their rights, improves their ICT skills as they build their computer literacy foundation.
The new concept came at a time when the county government started implementing the GBV policy that was launched recently.
The Children’s Services department is in the process of formatting a child protection policy. Both documents will work alongside the new concept of fighting defilement.
Catag director Zahrah Hassan, whose organisation is actively involved in the programme, said technology will help reduce defilement cases. Some of the challenges affecting the war on GBV is failure by survivors and their families to follow up on cases if they are reported.
Ms Hassa said the GBV policy will ensure cases are traced and victims get justice. "Use of technology will enlighten the community on ways of fighting the vice."
Last week, her organisation had a session with beneficiaries to share their experiences on using the new tool. Some of the learners shared what they wanted to be improved in the lessons.
Wahamla Primary School head boy Clinton Odhiambo and head girl Michele Awuor, who are both enrolled on the programme, say they have gained confidence to tell sex pests to keep off teenage girls.
"We have been given newsletters, which we have given to community members to enlighten them on child protection," Odhiambo said.
Ms Jackeline Awuor, a teacher at Wahambla Primary School, says 160 Justice Club has impacted knowledge on the pupils. "Most of them have information on what should be done if their rights are violated. More children should be sensitised to their rights."
At the initial stages, 225 learners from Makongeni, Rangwena and Nyalikinyo were enrolled.