SAFE HAVEN

Shelter protects and defends raped girls

Lack of witness protection cited as biggest hindrance to justice

In Summary

• Gladwell Wachira created the I Can Fly rescue centre to shelter the sexually abused

• With a capacity of 76 girls, it offers legal, psychological, social and medical services

Girls, women and children are the most victimised
Girls, women and children are the most victimised
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

When her mother forced her to take water to the bathroom for her stepfather two days after he defiled her, Valence Awuor*, 13, knew it was time to run away from home.

Awuor (name changed) remembers the fateful Thursday morning when she was forced to endure seeing her tormentor after he defiled her two days earlier on a Tuesday.

“He told me to refute everything I had told my mother a day before, otherwise I was going to have problems with him,” Awuor says.

Experts say the biggest hindrance to justice for sexual abuse victims, especially minors, is lack of witness protection.

Awuor says her stepfather was pretending to be watching television in the sitting room after supper when he forced himself on her while everybody was asleep.

“On Wednesday morning, I wrote a letter to my mother, explaining what happened, and I refused to come back for lunch. In the evening she asked if what I wrote was the truth and I said yes. She might have asked him because he threatened me on Thursday morning,” she narrates with a faraway look.

On Thursday, when she didn’t go for lunch at home for a second time, her teacher and a classmate helped her report the incident at Kamagambo police station in Migori county, where the suspect was arrested.

It emerged that the stepdad was also defiling Awuor’s elder sister, a Form 2 student at a local secondary school.

The case is ongoing in court, and the man is still in police custody. “I hope he gets jailed for life for what he did to me,” Awuor says.

The Class 6 pupil wants to be a nurse in future, but currently with the schools closed, she is staying at the I Can Fly rescue centre at Nyamasare village, tucked in a valley among acres and acres of sugarcane plantation.

When the Star visited, she was among 22 girls who remained behind at the centre. It has a capacity of 76 girls but before schools closed, it had 40 girls, who are gradually being integrated back to the society.

“The youngest among them is a 12-year-old who was impregnated by her biological father. She is undergoing trauma, depression and had to be given transfusion to help her and the unborn child as she threatened to terminate the pregnancy,” Grace Adhiambo, a social worker at the centre, said.

BATTLE AGAINST ODDS

Gladwell Wachira, 28, I Can Fy director and founder said most victims at their shelter are brought by local courts and police stations.

“Apart from basic amenities like food, we offer legal, psychological, social and medical services. We have a plan to build a shelter in form of a home to give an environment of hope to victims,” she said.

The rights of children rights are safeguarded under the Penal Code (Cap.63 Laws of Kenya). Punishable offences include sexual abuse (rape, defilement, indecent assault, incest and unnatural offences) and physical abuse.

The Children’s Act outlines basic rights like parental care, education, health care, protection from child labour and armed conflict, child abuse, sexual exploitation and drugs.

“The laws are there, but the biggest challenge for victims is most cases are not reported, and those who reach courts face delays and the probability of cases being withdrawn because of pressure from society,” Wachira said.

Studies show the main health issues affecting young people in Migori are sexually transmitted infections, including HIV-Aids, sexual and gender based violence, drug and substance abuse and teenage pregnancy.”

Government data indicates Migori girls aged 15-19 years account for 136 births per 1,000 births in the county, which is much higher than the national level set at 96 births.

“This shows how deep the problem is. Sometimes victims don’t know of the any legal process,” Wachira said.

She said the main challenge they face is slow judicial process to get cases going, taking care of victims who end up having children, and maintaining the shelter to continue offering services smoothly, including ensuring victims and witnesses make it during court process.