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Cabinet Secretary for the Public Service and Gender Affairs Prof Margaret Kobia/FILE

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Kenya records 36 per cent spike in GBV cases in 2020 COVID-19 period

Cabinet Secretary Margret Kobia said a total of 5,009 cases were recorded between January and December, an increase of 1,411 compared to cases reported in 2019.

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 22 – Gender-Based Violence cases hit record high numbers in Kenya in 2020, raising concerns on the safety of women and girls who are the most vulnerable and affected in the society, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statistics released on Thursday by the Ministry of Public Service and Gender show that there was a 36 percent spike in GBV cases in 2020 when 5,009 cases were recorded.

Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia said the cases were recorded between January and December, and represented an increase of 1,411 compared to cases reported in 2019. Nairobi, Kakamega, Kisumu, Nakuru and Kiambu counties accounted for most of the cases.

“The findings of the study established that the number of Gender-Based Violence cases reported between January and June 2020 had an increase of 92 percent compared to previous year same period,” Kobia said.

The most common forms of Gender-Based Violence identified were physical assault, rape and attempted rape, murder, defilement, grievous harm, child neglect and psychological torture.

As a result of the alarming cases, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the National Crime Research Centre to carry out a study to establish the causes of the incidents which shot up in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when a partial lockdown was imposed.

The study released Thursday highlighted alcohol, drug and substance abuse, poverty, family disputes and moral decadence among triggers of GBV.

Winny Syombua, a Gender Lead at Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) that runs the Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights (VWGR) said the figures could be much more than this based on statistics by other organisations like the Kenya Integrated Health Management System.

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“Although we see a 36% increase, the numbers could be higher because the stigma associated with the vice and the secrecy surrounding it prevents victims from reporting cases, making it difficult to paint an accurate picture of the prevalence and severity of gender violence overall,” she said, “This means that’s those who chose not to go public about their ordeals, were unable to find space or time away from an abuser to reach out for help, or else saw no hope or available solutions.”

According to Syombua, the figures released Thursday, even though not reflective of the situation on the ground are still alarming hence the need to “declare it a national scourge.”

Judy Kaberia, a Gender Media Trainer at Journalists for Human Rights’ Voice for women and Girls’ Rights said the cases are alarming. “Creating awareness is crucial to focus on prevention. Otherwise, these cases are getting out of hand and that’s why the strategy has to change and focus on prevention.”

Retrogressive cultural beliefs and practices and identity crisis among the youthful population were also cited in Thursday’s report as contributing factors.

As part of measures to de-escalate the cases, the Ministry of Gender provided a national GBV helpline 1195, national police helpline and child helpline to allow for anonymous reporting, assistance to survivors and to get referrals for medical and legal services to GBV victims.

Through the National Government Affirmative Action, 36 GBV shelters operated by Civil Society Organizations have been established in 13 counties of Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, Kwale, Samburu, Kajiado, Murang’a, Laikipia, Kiambu, Nyeri, Meru, Machakos and Makueni.

Kobia said despite the interventions by the government, there still remained some ground to be covered, and urged everyone to be involved in preventing GBV.

She said shortcomings included reporting incidences, supporting victims, speaking out against harmful and retrogressive cultural beliefs and practices.

“I wish to appeal to all members of the public to join hands to end this vice before it becomes a normal in violating human rights,” Kobia said.

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