The SMS platform helping GBV survivors in slums get justice

Teresa Monchari

Teresa Monchari, Africa Youth Trust Programme officer. She is in charge of a helpline service that links gender-based violence survivors to medical, legal, and psychosocial support.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Launched in 2016, the project supports survivors of violence to access legal, medical and psychosocial support by reporting incidents of GBV by texting the word HELP to the shortcode 21094.

Houses, mere fragile shells patched together with rusted iron sheets, huddled against the relentless ooze of black thick mud. Discarded plastics and other rubbish piled on the narrow alleys within the expansive Mukuru slums in Eastlands, Nairobi.

In some areas, raw sewage from rental buildings ran freely towards the various feeder roads. Only residents with gumboots exhibited confidence as they waddled through the mire. The rest resigned to their fate and allowed the filth to get into contact with their skin.

The air was heavy with decay and the stench of sewerage gripped at the throat. In that inhospitable environment was a far worse moral decadence, resulting in gender based violence (GBV). Amid the adversity, the children displayed their resilience, frolicking in the muddy puddles, their laughter echoing against the grim backdrop.

Sexually groomed

Deep in the heart of Mukuru kwa Reuben slums, Judith* 16, sat quietly in an iron-sheet single room with her daughter, mother, sister and nephew. In 2022, she was defiled by an older man who had befriended and sexually groomed her with the promise of giving her a better life, away from the despair.

Her mother only got to know about her daughter’s circumstance when she got pregnant. She took action and reported to a local non-governmental organisation through their short code platform.

On the other side of Judith’s home is Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums. Mutio, a mother of two, who will be identified by a single name to protect her identity, lives on the posher side of the slums in a concrete building.

She lives in a single room with eight other people including her daughters, sister, nephews, nieces and grandchild.

She is a survivor of domestic violence which was meted out on her by her ex-husband. For 26 years, she did not know where to report or get justice, however, in 2018, she got wind of an SMS platform whereby victims of GBV could report and get help.

SMS platform

“I had gone to the chief, to the pastor and even my women friends in church. No one helped me. The chief ignored my plight after receiving bribes from my husband while the church told me to be steadfast in prayer.”

The SMS platform used by Judith and Mutio is at the centre of the Increasing Access to Justice and Security initiative that is funded by ActionAid Kenya and implemented by Africa Youth Trust (AYT) in Mukuru kwa Njenga, Nairobi and Pambazuko La Wanawake Magharibi in Nyalenda, Kisumu.

The project, which launched in 2016, aims to support survivors of violence to access legal, medical and psychosocial support through reporting incidences of GBV by sending the word HELP to short code 21094.

AYT Project officer, Teresa Monchari, indicates that the service is free to use and once a case is reported, the user is issued with a unique case identifying number. The case is then received by a team of committed volunteer system operators who monitor and support the survivor to access services.

In the last three years from December 2020 to present, AYT has received 1,200 cases of rape and defilement, domestic violence and child neglect through the SMS platform.

Consolata Wangui

Consolata Wangui, counsellor.

Photo credit: Pool

Judith’s case is ongoing in court, while Mutio was able to report her husband. He was jailed for six months and once he was released, he vanished from her life. These days, she leads a more peaceful life.

Duncan Miale has lived in Mukuru kwa Njenga for more than 20 years. He works as a case manager for the initiative. He is also a member of the Nyumba Kumi community policing initiative.

The year 2020, he observes, was the worst year in terms of rape and defilement cases that were reported in the area.

He plays a fundamental role within the survivor support ecosystem. After a report is made through the short code, it is taken over by a paralegal who then refers it to him. His responsibility includes attending to all the needs of the survivors such as taking them to hospital and to the police to report, and also escorting them to court, among other places that they may need to go.

The biggest challenge to his work is stalling of cases or survivors withdrawing cases.

“We should have more specialised courts to deal with these cases so that survivors do not give up. Parents who move with their defiled children to far away areas also make it difficult for them to attend court, and the cases end up dying.”

The other challenge he experiences is the bad roads. Many feeder roads are untarmacked, and when it rains, it becomes impossible to access some survivors. It especially gets difficult when he has to help survivors get to the hospital for emergency services.

“This is a job that you can only do if you truly have a heart for the people, it is not easy,” he says.

Consolata Wangui is a counsellor, a social worker and a church minister at Mukuru kwa Njenga.

“I have lived here in Mukuru for over 22 years and so I know all the corners around, and whenever there are incidents, people reach out to me directly and I am able to raise awareness about the short code.”


She works hand in hand with Duncan, once cases have been referred by the paralegal. Most counselling work happens in the evening from 5.30 pm and weekends because that is when survivors are available. She, too, agrees that the job can be taxing.

“It is very difficult working in this area most especially due to the subject we cover. Personally, I have earned the respect of the community and even the protection of the young men here. However, I cannot say the same for other community health promoters or social workers. We have had incidents of threats and attempts at silencing them.”

Aside from the reporting function, the 12,000 registered users on the SMS platform in both Nairobi and Kisumu get bulk messages on available reporting mechanisms in the community, the referral pathways and enhanced knowledge on GBV and women rights in either English or Swahili.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the minor.