At the age of three, Sam* was severely emaciated and could not walk or stand. He was living with his elder siblings, who, upon discovering Sam’s HIV status, neglected him. The little boy only survived on mandazi (Swahili Coconut Doughnut) and tea, resulting in severe malnutrition and tuberculosis. His case was referred to Childline Kenya, an organisation which exists to end child abuse- through the 116 helpline, and they stepped in to help.
This is just one of the cases reported to the non-governmental organisation, according to the child protection report 2006-2016. The report, published in partnership with the Kenyan Government, provided details of child abuse cases in the country as collected through the 116 helpline. According to the report, Childline Kenya has received over 13,000 cases of child neglect. Just like Sam, a lot of children have been neglected by their parents and relatives. These abuse takes different forms including denying children food as form of punishment, refusing to take the children to school and refusing to get their children medical care when needed.
The report further indicated that child neglect is the get way to other abuse cases.
“From the data, every time child neglect cases went up, other abuse cases such as sexual and physical abuse also increased,” read the report in part.
It also added that of all child neglect cases, 75 per cent were perpetrated by immediate family members followed by parents and extended family at 17 per cent and eight per cent respectively.
Coming in second is child sexual abuse cases, with over 7800 cases reported. Cases involving girls are reported more often than those involving boys, despite both sexes equally likely to be abused, according to Childline Kenya Executive Director Mr. George Kidenda.
“Unfortunately, the most trusted people in a children’s life are the same people that lead in abusing them sexually. Within this reporting period, fathers took the lead of abusing their daughters sexually followed by uncles. The ages 6 to10 years seems to have been at the highest risk of being abused followed by 11-15 year olds,” Kidenda says
According to Kidenda, this abuse by close family members, works against justice for children since in some cases, families opts to settle the issue within the family, resulting in the perpetrator walking away scot free and continuing to abuse other young people.
This is the case of seven year old Jessica*, who was being physically abused by her step father, a medical practitioner. He would bring her medicine to treat the wounds on her body. When the case was reported to Childline Kenya, efforts to intervene were thwarted after Jessica’s mother refused to testify against her husband. She even went ahead and coached Jessica to deny the allegations before moving to an undisclosed location, making it difficult for Jessica to receive treatment and safety.
According to Unicef’s Child Report, the consequence of child abuse by close family members is usually complicated because the child would have been victimised by people they love and trust, in a space they ought to have felt safe. Not only are they exposed to stigma and shame but also have to deal with the emotional trauma on their own.
“Loss of confidence and belief in the human beings closest to the child can instill feelings of fear, suspicion, uncertainty, and emotional isolation. He or she may never again feel safe or secure in the company of the parent or family member who perpetrated the violence,” the report states.
It is important to note that while we may expect reporting to have improved especially after 2014, when devolution in Kenya took effect, the opposite is true. This may be mainly because of the lack of implementation of mainstreaming of all sexual and gender-based violence policies in the county governments. The National Gender and Equality Commission has already come up with a monitoring and evaluation framework to assess whether gender based activities are being implemented and to identify programmatic gaps and building an enabling environment to prevent gender based violence and violence against children.
The other reason could be the lack of awareness by the victims on the existence of help lines and other forms of help in terms of accessing health care or legal redress.
“Many cases go unreported for fear of victimisation. Furthermore, many people do not know of the existence of hotlines where incidents of abuse can be reported by anyone who witnesses them. More awareness is therefore needed to empower children on their rights and where to report should their rights be violated,” Kidenda says
It is also notable that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one of the least reported cases in Kenya, with the numbers reducing over the years. According to Childline Kenya, this is mainly because the area in which FGM is practiced encourages it, despite it being illegal. Therefore the practice is carried out in secrecy and therefore reporting can lead to stigma and even exclusion from the community.
However strides have been taken in this area, including the formation of centres where girls can access help and receive information about FGM set up by non-state actors in collaboration with the state and other stakeholders to ensure that FGM is eliminated.
Overally, the declining numbers in reporting have also been affected by technical issues arising from Childline Kenya’s aging system as well as their lack of capacity to create awareness about this service.
It is for this reason that Childline Kenya partnered with Yetu initiative―a project of the Aga Khan Foundation in partnership with USAID— to set up the Shine a Light Campaign to stop child abuse and provide a safe environment for all children. It is through this campaign that they are seeking to provide help to children so that they do not meet harm or death like Sam, who unfortunately lost his life due to neglect.
*Not real name.