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February 16, 2019

Kenya's judicial system failing our children

Alberta Wambua
Alberta Wambua

She models a house with a lady inside. The lady is called Natasha. She is Mukami’s best friend, her only friend.

Mukami then destroys the house and picks a picture puzzle from the cupboard.

She is in a room that’s filled with dolls and other games. The design on the wall is also appealing to children.

She asks me to help her solve the picture puzzle of two girls who, according to the synopsis, are best friends. Halfway through the puzzle, she tells me the most heartbreaking news that no mother or guardian would want to hear from a child.

“When I was living with my dad he used to do bad things to me. Whenever I shouted 'No daddy! It’s painful'; he would beat me up and continue doing bad things to me," eight-year-old Mukami shares with me her story while solving the picture puzzle.

She keeps quiet for a moment then destroys the puzzle and picks another. At this point, she’s speaking in a brittle voice.

“My only wish is to see my mum and tell her that she made a mistake to leave me with my dad. Even after I was rescued and brought to this children’s home, I still have nightmares about my dad,” Mukami says.

Mukami is a victim of sexual and physical abuse. She had been staying with her dad after her mother took off and has no siblings.

She was rescued by her neighbour in November last year, who took her to the Gender Violence and Recovery Centre, Hurlingham branch, where she underwent treatment and was later taken to Mary Faith Children’s home in Riruta.

Mukami appeared before Kibera law courts twice in November last year. However, the judge is yet to rule on the matter five months later. Her father is still in police custody.

Mukami isn’t the only one who is awaiting justice from the judicial system. I met 17-year-old Peris, who is also a survivor of sexual abuse.

She stays at the same children’s home with Mukami. With her is her six-month-old baby who is a product of rape.

“The father of my child is my husband’s employer. When I look at him I feel pain but I still love him with all my heart,” Peris says.

The incident occurred last year after she found a job as a house help to a couple in Riruta. Little did she know that her new job will change her life, completely.

“The incident happened one Saturday afternoon. I had just taken a shower and went to the bedroom to dress up. The man of the house followed me to my room and asked me to lie on the bed. When I refused he forced himself on me,” Peris explains in a shaky voice.

“He then told me not to tell anyone and if I did he would beat me up.”

After two days, I decided to tell my employer about what her husband did to me. She was so furious and took me to the nearest police station to record my statement.

Barely a year after recording my statement, action is yet to be taken against the perpetrator.

This is because the police failed to arrest the suspect after his wife intervened. They moved to another location to avoid being tracked.

According to the data from the Gender Violence Recovery Centre, out of the 3,000 survivors that receive treatment in all their five branches annually, 1,172 are children, majority of whom are victims of sexual abuse.

Their report further indicates that 1,031 of the children are girls and 141 are boys.

Alberta Wambua, who is the executive director of GVRC, says 90 per cent of the perpetrators are people known to the victims.

“From our own research, majority of the suspects are fathers at 30 per cent followed by their neighbours at 25 per cent. Uncles account at 15 per cent and cousins stand at 10 per cent. These incidents occur at the home of the victims,” Wambua says.

Wambua notes that parents nowadays don’t spend time with their children, making it hard for them to tell if they’ve been abused or not.

This in the long run makes it hard for the kids to open up to their parents about such issues.

“That is the problem we have with the society today. Most parents are busy looking for money to raise their children as opposed to being there for them both physically and emotionally,” Wambua notes.

Whenever a neighbour or children open up about an abuse incident to their parents, the reaction is always wanting as they don’t believe the information they’ve been given.

Wambua says parents should be able to tell if their children are victims of abuse by checking if they are accepting gifts from other people or whether have changed their body language.

“When parents are aware of abuse cases against their children, they fear reporting the matter to the police station because they’ve been threatened by the perpetrators. Even when undergoing treatment and psychosocial support, it's hard for them to give information,” Wambua says.

“Others opt to defend them with the fear of losing the breadwinner of the family should he be the suspect.”

Wambua says in cases where parents have done their part, the judicial system is letting children down when handling their cases.

“One thing that we take note of is that the judges take too long to give a final judgment,” Wambua says.

She adds that many police stations and courts are not child-friendly.

"This in turn makes it hard for the child to record a statement at the police station," Wambua says.

However, according to family lawyer John Chigiti, the judicial system shouldn’t be blamed.

He said some of the challenges advocates face when handling cases touching on children include parents or caregivers being unable to afford legal fees, the number of doctors and social workers present in court is not enough, language is also a big challenge if the victims cannot speak either English and Kiswahili, as there are not enough interpreters in court.

He adds that the evidence presented might be also be damaged depending on how long it takes to come to court.

“Lawyers who are handling cases touching on children are supposed to be doing it pro bono [free of charge], but owing to the challenges we face, majority of us would opt to go for cases where clients can pay them legal fees,” Chigiti notes.

“As much as the Children’s Act indicates such cases should be handled within a short time, the time frame was not well defined. A short period can be two weeks, six months or even a year.”

Whenever a child is presented in court to testify against a suspect who is known to them, they are never briefed about what to expect.

As a result, they end up being traumatised even more as they are in an environment that they are not familiar with and could have also forgotten what happened to them, thus making it hard for the lawyers representing them to get information out of them.

Lawyer Chigiti says there’s need to hasten these cases so that the children can get the justice they deserve.


“The government needs to ensure that all lawyers who are dealing with children undergo psychological training which will help them in getting more information from the children which is usually the greatest challenge... It’s not fair that they have to wait for a longer period to know the outcome of their cases," Chigiti says.

He adds that children courts should be located in areas that don’t have a busy surrounding, as this will help children feel at ease.

“Children are supposed to be handled differently from adults. If their cases are not handled expeditiously, they end up victims of the judicial system, not because they want to but because the system surrounding them is failing them," Chigiti says. “It’s really sad that in some courts doctors are only present once a week.”

Chigiti suggests that police officers, social workers, doctors and witnesses need to work together to ensure that all cases are heard and determined within the shortest time possible to allow the victims to recuperate and lead a normal life.


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