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July 21, 2018

Incest, defilement on the rise: Who will save the children?

A question asked by a 15-year-old girl during a school visit by Equality Now, July 6, 2018. /COURTESY
A question asked by a 15-year-old girl during a school visit by Equality Now, July 6, 2018. /COURTESY

The rising spate of incest and defilement of children has raised alarm among authorities and children’s rights activists.

The worrying part of it is that most children are sexually molested at homes, schools and on their way to or from schools, and by people close to them in a breach of the trust the children have for the perpetrators.

Children are easy victims of defilement because they are weak in physical stature and mental capabilities and mostly dependent on others, who sometimes turn out to be paedophiles.

Most child sex predators are fathers, uncles, cousins, grandfathers and teachers. Sexual molesters outside of family ranks include domestic workers, neighbours, boda boda operators, drivers and school workers.

However, only a fraction of defilement cases is reported. Most children suffer in silence, and only report to teachers when pestered after the teachers notice changes in character or signs of physical pains.

In a visit to 25 schools, Equality Now, an NGO in the women empowerment sector, found that most children were unaware of what to do when sexually abused, especially if the perpetrator is a family member.

At a Nairobi school, a 17 year old girl asked the Equality Now officials whether she is right to kill her father if she meets him because he defiled her when she was between six and nine years.

Makueni Deputy Governor Adelina Mwau reads a question asked by a 13-year-old girl during Equality Now's civic education  in Makindu on the prevention of child rights violations, July 6, 2018. /JOSEPH NDUNDA

NOWHERE TO RUN

Florence Machio, a programme officer with Equality Now, says this silence is caused by society's failure to recognise that children need to be listened to.

Machio says children don't know what to do with sex predators, including reporting them, because they are not equipped to overcome fear of consequences and report defilement, and they don’t know who to report to, and have nowhere to run.

In most circumstances when sexual violence hits, children choose to keep quiet. Machio says it is important that they speak out so they are helped.

“Close relatives are the ones violating the children. Even child marriages happen at homes. The fathers will receive dowry and the children will be married off. So the biggest elephant in the room now is: where should the children go if they are not safe at home and in school?” she says.

“If you look at statistics, you won't get much showing the children have been violated, yet we know that defilement is taking place. Reports are not there because children are violated by people who are very close to them, who generally should ensure they are safe. So the perpetrators are increasingly becoming people who are no longer strangers.”

She says the culture has taught children to keep quiet and not speak out on issues to do with sexual violence — FGM and sexual molestation.

MYTHS AND TABOOS

Feminist and Makueni Deputy Governor Adelina Mwau blames the silence by victimised children on traditions that demean children and women.

She says children are not considered equal members of families and societies, and their voice hardly counts. This makes them have little regard for themselves and let themselves undergo anything in silence, because no one will hear them anyway.

Mwau adds that myths and taboos around sexuality have kept information on sexual matters out of bounds for children.

“Even in our time, we grew up without anyone telling us anything about sexuality, especially the transition to adulthood. This information gap persists up to date, and children have no information on certain issues of importance in their lives,” she says.

Mwau also blames parental negligence, whereby many parents are not concerned about the well-being of their children. She says most incest and defilement cases can easily be detected if parents are keen on the welfare of their children.

“One of the cases we are dealing with in Makueni is that of a 13 year-old-girl old who has been defiled by her cousin since she was seven years old, without her mother's knowledge, until it was discovered this year. And the way she was expressing herself in court tells you she could have opened up if there was anyone to listen to, but it seems there was none,” Mwau said.

“We also have a case of a 15-year-old girl who has been repeatedly defiled by 21 men, including her teacher said to be her father for over five years. These are children who have been let down by their mothers because of parental negligence. No child is safe anywhere if they lack parental care.”

Equality Now campaign officer Florence Machio at Safari Park hotel in Nairobi during a workshop with female deputy governors on protecting children from defilement at home,  June 28, 2018. /JOSEPH NDUNDA

BUDGETING SANITARY TOWELS

The teacher and two other men, including a county government employee, have been charged with defilement at the Wote Law Courts, and police are still hunting for the other suspects.

Mwau says parents are hardly budgeting for sanitary towels and panties for the daughters, which exposes them to abuse by men who fill up the gap. Nor are they ensuring their children are safe on their way to and from schools.

“That is where boda boda riders and neighbours who know their predicament come in. A girl doesn't want to miss a class and doesn't want to soil herself while in the school, and they take advantage by providing that Sh100 she direly needs for the towels,” Mwau says.

“Recently I met primary school children coming from evening preps past 9pm, escorted by a man who they told me was a parent of one of them. Now parents are forgetting that these male parents can turn on the children. I was very uncomfortable because this man could also be a hyena guarding goats.”

Muhuri officials shield a minor who was defiled by her father in Bamburi, Mombasa county. /FILE

SAFE SPACES

Machio said Equality Now has been looking at how to create safe spaces in formal settings, such as government schools. He said there should be psychologists who the children can trust and not necessarily teachers, because even some teachers are predators.

She says this will encourage children to speak out on what is happening to them at home, in school and elsewhere.

“If a 12-year-old is defiled, how will they take themselves to police and hospital? We need to create structures that can help children report these cases. If you look at our ‘Sounds of Silence’ gallery, we have teachers, parents, uncles, cousins and grandfathers [as defilers]. That is what children are saying. Very few are strangers,” Machio says.

“There is a girl who said she is afraid of her own father because she saw him rape their house girl. Others said it is teachers asking for sex in exchange for grades. These are the people violating the children. Therefore, as a country, we need to come to the realisation that we need to create safe spaces, where these children feel they can tell someone and something can be done to protect them.”

Nandi Deputy Governor Yulita Mitei says it will take more than enforcement of law and order to tame the tide. She says the society has reached a stage where norms have gone out the window, which she blames for rape of minors as well as grandmothers mainly by their grandsons.

“We are in a dangerous situation. The sound of silence is very high. We need conversation across the board. Until community elders, Nyumba Kumi and others take leadership and responsibility, we can't go anywhere,” she says.

Read: What drives men to sexually abuse minors

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