A gender-based-violence victim.  

| File

Justice remains elusive for defilement survivors

What you need to know:

  • But the headache in this fight has been the emergence of Kangaroo courts within the villages.
  • Despite government’s legislative as well as policy framework interventions, SGBV still remains a serious challenge here in Kenya.

At just 15 years, Zaina (not her real name) is already experiencing a horror that most would never wish to ever experience in their lifetime.

She has been forced to run into hiding, seeking refuge at her aunt’s place in Bombolulu in Mombasa. She has run away from her home some 10km away, to not only suppress the horrific memories she has of that place, but also to get away from the man whom she accuses of defiling her and who’s currently out of jail on bail.

Looking at her, she still seems shaken and a glimpse of shame as if what happened to her was her foul.

The dark pages in Zaina’s life began to unfold on May 4, 2020, after a neighbour whom she had known for years, and who operates as a boda boda rider, is said to have lured her into his house, before committing the heinous act on her.

What followed was the medical examination usually administered to survivors before arrests are made.

“For my safety, however, it was suggested that I go as far away as possible from the perpetrator, and that is why I was brought to my aunt’s place,” she explains.

Mental health

On the other hand, her aunt, Elizabeth says, they continue to live in fear not just for Zaina’s security, but also for her mental health.

“I cannot send her to the shop or even allow her to go outside, because I’m afraid that the perpetrator and his relatives could find her,” she says.

It is the same ordeal that Miriam Kimemia, a resident of Ziwa la Ng’ombe in Bombolulu, experienced seven years ago following her grandson’s abuse by someone he knew very well.

“My grandson was sodomised. Then, he was only five years, and the hell that we as a family went through all in search for justice, was unfathomable,” she explains.

According to Miriam, before the perpetrator was sentenced, they had to take some extreme safety measures to protect the victim.

“As the case was underway in court, he was out on bond and he could actually come to intimidate not just my grandson, but the whole family,” she adds.

Strict routine

This forced them to change their lifestyle where unlike previously when the boy would go with other children to school, they had a strict routine of taking him and picking him from school.

“Also, the teachers were under strict instructions not to let anybody else pick him apart from myself and her grandfather,” she recalls.

Though at the moment Miriam’s family find comfort on the fact that the perpetrator is serving life in prison, for Zaina, her pursuit for justice continues.

According to data by Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), from January to July this year, there were 421 sexual gender based violence (SGBV) reported cases in Kilifi County, as Malindi Sub County recorded the biggest number at 184, and Magarini Sub County reported the least with 4.

Furthermore, the data suggested that the data may vary because the centres that respond to SGBV are centrally located in level 4 and 3 facilities.

This means that there could be other cases that went unreported.

Despite government’s legislative as well as policy framework interventions, SGBV still remains a serious challenge here in Kenya.

According to United Nations Population Fund Country representative Dr Ademola Oladije, despite heinous sexual violence cases increasing, a good number of victims fail to report.

So what could be the cause of this?

A 2017 County Government Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Violence report published by the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), showed that for instance, in Taita Taveta County, a majority of child sexual abuse cases go unreported because of fear of stigmatisation.

Defilement cases

Miriam, who is also a children’s rights activist in Bombolulu and a member of Sauti ya Mwanamke, a group that has been on the forefront fighting SGBV within the Coastal region, and who for more than a decade has dealt with tens of defilement cases, faults the justice system.

According to the NGEC report, the long line of bureaucratic processes, as well as outside of legal services were considered as some of the barriers.

“Many will fail to report because of fear of not getting justice, or being threatened by the perpetrators. I have handled defilement cases where the perpetrators are released on bond, only to come out and start threatening victims and witnesses,” she explains.

Dr. Patricia Owira from International Center for Reproductive Health - Kenya says lack of resources to get the victims to the recovery centres could be a major contributor.

“Failing to seek medical attention, means that there will be missing records, making it difficult to take the case to court.”

But the headache in this fight has been the emergence of Kangaroo courts within the villages.

“Survivors do not have the time, resources, or willpower to navigate the system. This means family of victims opting to resolve the issue outside the confines of the justice system, an option that seems easy for many,” she says.

Elizabeth remembers how Zaina’s family was at first bombarded with ideas to ask for dowry from the perpetrator and marry their daughter off, as a settlement instead of “wasting” time and resources in court.

“We have had cases where the family of the victims opt out of the case, discontinuing the process,” says Dr Owira.

According to Dr Owira, most victims come from poor backgrounds and their parents settle for the very little money they receive from the perpetrator.

She says there is need for organisations tasked with offering SGBV services to include the community as a whole.