•Unicef is supporting the government’s emergency response to Covid-19, including in child protection.
•Around one in two young adults in Kenya experienced violence as a child.
Seven-year-old Kijana (not his real name) was playing hide and seek in the winding streets of Korogocho, one of Nairobi’s sprawling informal settlements, when two older boys called him away. “They removed my pants and started touching my private parts,” says the boy, looking down. “Then they beat me up.”
Kijana, who lives in the slum, home to as many as 200,000 people pressed into 1.5 square kilometres, says he went home and told his mother what happened before she took him to the hospital. While the pain he felt going to the toilet eventually subsided, the emotional scars left by the experience show no signs of abating.
Tragically, what happened to Kijana is not an isolated incident for many Kenyan children, especially since the outbreak of Covid-19. According to a new 2019 survey released by Government of Kenya’s Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, around one in two young adults in Kenya experienced violence as a child.
The 2019 Violence Against Children Survey found that among those who participated in the survey, 46 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old young women faced at least one type of violence – physical, emotional or sexual – during their childhood, as well as 52 per cent of young men in the same age group.
Kijana’s case is one of over 100 high risk cases that Terre des Hommes is responding to, with support from Unicef, by offering medical treatment, psychosocial and legal support, combined with cash transfers to cushion their families from the effects of Covid-19.
Eugenia Olliaro, a child protection officer with Unicef Kenya, says that during coronavirus-related school closures the number of cases of violence against children, including sexual abuse and gender-based violence, increased dramatically.
“These cases represent a third of all reported crimes since the onset of Covid-19 in Kenya,” she says.
The UN agency is supporting the government’s emergency response to Covid-19, including in child protection. “We’ve deployed additional counsellors to the national helpline 116 and supported over 300 child protection volunteers across the country,” Eugenia continues.
“Together with Terre des Hommes, we’ve supported the training of 130 community mentors in Korogocho. These volunteers and mentors report cases to child protection workers or the police for follow up.”
Together with the government, Unicef is also running a major public information campaign “Spot It, Stop It” which aims to raise public awareness of violence against children and how to prevent and report it.
The goal is to create a movement at community level, especially in high-risk counties, to protect children from violence, empowering children, their families and neighbours to take action.
As part of the campaign, children and adults are encouraged to speak up about violence, seek support from a trusted adult, children protection officer or the Child Helpline on 116 (toll free), and report cases to the police.