NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 7 – From the onset, I must admit that the series of interviews I was meant to undertake were challenging.
I knew they had the potential of reviving raw pain and horrifying memories of what the victims underwent in the hands of those they trusted most.
A sense of guilt was hovering over me but I was propelled by the need to create awareness of the least addressed silent ‘killer’ in the society.
A tale of a worrying trend, that just like a wildfire, has grown over time and has spared none; not even the young whose innocence is brutally exterminated by the horrible experiences.
It is in Meru County, where I get to meet tens of sexual defilement victims drawn from various parts of the country, all of them under the age of 18 years.
They were all sexually defiled by people known to them.
– It is my father who did it –
Mercy* was 4-years-old when she was raped by her biological father in late 2016.
It happened several times until the man was exposed.
Some two years later, she still recalls the incident that saw her separated from her family.
“My father did bad things to me. He removed my clothes at night, and inserted his urinating ‘thing’ inside mine…” she repeated the same words she made before a judge after the incident, this time to the Capital News crew.
Her father is serving a life sentence after the judge found him guilty of the offence.
“Children are our future and we must protect them. This court is mandated to ensure that they are protected and anything below that threshold will be fatal to our great land. I will protect this young girl and pass a warning to any other predator that children are a no-go-zone, by sentencing the accused to life prison,” reads a section of the ruling.
She is currently at a rescue centre in Meru County.
– Step-father defiles his daughter –
“He used to wait for my mother to leave, before committing the act,” the memories are still fresh in Jane’s* mind.
It is her step-father who took her innocence at the age of 13 years.
“My father raped me and as a result I got pregnant,” the mother of one, and a resident of Meru County said.
And though her memories are painful, she wants to use it to create awareness about sexual violence against children.
“I will go back to school, it doesn’t matter whether I will be the oldest in the classroom, but I have to do so that I can become a journalist,” she said during an interview with Capital FM News.
Her son may be a product of rape, but she has vowed to teach him a few lessons.
“I will tell my son to love, never to hurt a woman, never to rape. I want him to become a real gentleman,” the 17-year-old said.
To other victims of sexual violence, she advises them to “speak out. Do not fear, so that you can get help.”
The two are currently at Ripples International, a Meru based rescue centre for girls who have undergone such experiences.
The institution is a home for children aged 10 years and below, sexually defiled by people known to them who are relatives and family friends.
“Most of our target beneficiaries are women and children since they are the most vulnerable in a society,” Ripples International Director Mercy Chindi said.
According to Chindi, most communities’ remain tight-lipped about these incidents, meaning there could be many children undergoing similar experiences.
“As much as Ripples International has been conducting aggressive yet culturally sensitive campaigns, this has been met with very little or no action at all. We will continue to spread the word on the importance of respecting children rights regardless of the cultural barriers,” she asserted.
It is a fact that cases of children being sexually molested are on the rise in the country according to police statistics and organisations like Ripples International.
Joyce Kuria, a counselor at the institution says parents should be keen on any behavioral change in their children.
“In most cases, the culprits are very close relatives like the biological fathers especially in a majority of the cases I have handled,” she said.
In this case, she says parents should develop a close relationship with their children, such that they will be free to share such sensitive information with them.
“It is good even for a nursery school child to know what are the private parts and they are able to identify them and if somebody tries to touch them, they would say,” she advised.
“When you create a good relationship with a child, they are able to share their experiences. As parents, we should also create time for our children and even teach them about these types of abuse.”
– Know your child –
According to World Health Organisation, in a majority of cases, children do not disclose abuse immediately following the event. The reluctance to disclose abuse tends to stem from a fear of the perpetrator; the perpetrator may have made threats, such as “If you tell anyone I will kill you/ kill your mother.”
If the child does disclose, failure of family and professionals to protect and support the child adequately, augment the child’s distress and may lead to retraction of the disclosure.
Some of the effects of child sexual abuse include unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature, sleep problems or nightmares, depression or withdrawal from friends or family.
Children may also make statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area, secretiveness, fear and suicidal behaviour.
Established in 2002, Ripples International rescues and rehabilitates sexually abused girls in Kenya.
According to Chindi, they have rehabilitated 3,456 girls, rescued 402 babies and empowered more than 17,000 women with micro-enterprise resources and skills.
*Not real name to protect identity