Suffering little girl child in informal settlements

WHO says more than 12 million girls are married before age 18 each year

In Summary

• World Health Organisation says one in five girls globally has experienced sexual violence

• Fuata Nyayo and Kisii Village in South B have high GBV cases, according to South B member of the County Assembly Waithera Chege.

Girls from informal settlements mark the International day for the girl child on October 11..
GIRL CHILD DAY: Girls from informal settlements mark the International day for the girl child on October 11..

Monica* hawks chapatis and mandazi in an informal settlement for a few shillings to supplement what her mother is paid as a washerwoman in Nairobi's Hazina estate.

But that is not the desire of the 16-year-old Form 1 girl at a mixed secondary school in Machakos county. Monica (not her real name) wants to be an engineer and believes she has what it takes to be one.

But there are many hurdles to overcome. Until his death five years ago, her father was the sole breadwinner.

The mother was a housewife, who has since then become the sole bread winner, earning at most Sh6,000 a month from her laundress job.

This job is not guaranteed. She moves from house to house looking for clients with dirty clothes for washing.

“We sometimes spend the night without dinner. Looking for work has been hard for my mother especially during Covid-19 pandemic,” Monica told the Star.

She is sad to see her mother suffering so much to put food on the table and pay for other basics.

"She becomes depressed. I, however, cook chapatis and mandazi, hawk them early in the morning just to help her put food on the table,” Monica says.

As if this is not bad enough, the aspiring engineer does not feel safe in her neighbourhood. She faces the risk of being raped.

“Male friends and strangers, including mature men, approach me for sex. When you resist, they entice you with money to have sex. But I refuse.”

The situation is not any better in her mixed secondary school. She has been sexually harassed, not once but many times, by   schoolmates (boys) and male teachers.

The boys strategically wait in dark corners for females at night after preps and ask to be allowed to ‘touch us’. The daring ones forcefully touch the girls.

“If you refuse to give them sexual favour, they gang up against you and beat you up. When we report them, they deny doing so. So we just give up. We feel insecure and neglected because we have no one to turn to after this,” Monica says.

Some male teachers also ask for sex in exchange for favourable treatment including high marks.

“A teacher approaches you for sexual favours and if you decline, he punishes you for things you have not done, gives you lower grades or treats you harshly,” she said.

Jessica* (also not her real name) is 18 and can barely afford sanitary pads. At home, drugs especially marijuana, and alcohol are  commonly abused. Some of her peers and friends also partake of the substances.

“We are two in our family being raised by a single mother. She  struggles so much. I fear asking money from her whenever I am in dire need.”

Many a time she reports to school with hardly any shopping. The stress on her mother's face forces her not to ask for unnecessary items.

She prefers seeking help from either her elder brother or her aunt.

“My older brother works hard to make ends meet. He has been a great support to me and our mother financially,” Jessica says.

When she and her friends are sent away from school for lack of fees, men come promising to pay the whole amount. But there is a catch - sex.

Some of Jessica's peers accuse her of being a lesbian because she is never seen with a male friend. This affects her self-esteem.

“They call me a snitch and tell me I do not belong in their group".

She wants the government to come up with more ways to help the girl child. According to Jessica, more bursaries and free sanitary pads would do.

The other challenges girls in informal settlements face are early unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence among parents, lack of basic needs, drug abuse and defilement, even by their fathers.

Monica and Jessica narrated their experiences on Sunday during this year's  International Day of the Girl Child hosted by South B member of the County Assembly Waithera Chege.

The theme was “My Voice, Our Equal Future.”

The girls were counselled on their individual importance, power, and potential both at community level. They were made aware of Gender-Based Violence and sexual reproductive rights.

Chege said Fuata Nyayo and Kisii Village in South B have high GBV cases. She said her goal is to exploit the girls’ potential.

“We want to include the girls in every decision-making. If we do not involve them, as these issues affect them, we will not be doing them any good,” the ward rep said.

She called for the arrest of parents who use children for illegal businesses instead of taking them to school.

According to the World Health Organisation, the International Day of the Girl Child highlights the needs of the girl, focusing on particular problems.

It says one in five girls globally has experienced sexual violence.

According to the UN agency, at least 12 million girls are married before age 18 every year.

In Eastern and Southern Africa, nearly 80 per cent of new HIV infections among adolescents are girls, WHO says.


- mwaniki fm