Child sex: The cruel truth

Wednesday June 17 2009

Father Renato Kizito during an interview at Shalom House on Ngong Road in Nairobi on Wednesday. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI

Father Renato Kizito during an interview at Shalom House on Ngong Road in Nairobi on Wednesday. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI 

By CAROLINE RWENJI and FRED MUKINDA

Sexual abuse against children has been on the increase over the years, but many of the cases are never reported, police have said. Information available at police headquarters shows that 1,626 cases of attacks against children were recorded in 2007. The number rose to 1,984 in 2008, representing an increase of over 300.

The Cradle, a child rights organisation, on Wednesday said that an average of 10 cases involving child abuse have been reported at its Nairobi offices every week since January. The police figures translate to an average of five children being defiled every day.

Cradle’s deputy director, Mr Gilbert Onyango, described the prevalence as “very high” while the deputy spokesman of the police department, Mr Charles Wahong’o, said the number of defilement cases of paedophilia was “quite high”.

According to the Cradle, 74 per cent of all cases of violence against children involved defilement. Girls between the ages of 12 and 14 were the most vulnerable. The minors are often abused by people they know and trust, particularly in whose care they are entrusted.

Eighty six per cent were defiled by someone they knew, according to a 2007 report by Cradle, which adds, 43 per cent of the children were molested repeatedly by the same abuser.

Child abuse cases have been in the headlines this week, with police arresting a suspect with a pack of pictures of naked children. A well-known Catholic priest, Father Renato Kizito, is defending his reputation against claims that he sexually abused children under his care for 20 years.

The Catholic church, whose reputation in other countries is damaged by cases of child sexual abuse, has promised to investigate all cases and punish appropriately those found guilty. “Children are easy targets because they are vulnerable,” said nominated MP and former Cradle executive director Millie Odhiambo.

Children’s Legal Action Network (Clan) executive director Tom Chavaga said his organisation deals with between 5,000 and 6,000 cases of child abuse each year, some of which involve defilement. His organisation’s rescue centre receives 230 victims of violence a month, with 45 per cent being children.

Cases of child abuse are rampant in urban areas especially Nairobi and the coastal region, he said. A disproportionate number of sex abusers are foreigners. Some are probably criminals in their own countries. They settle in low-income areas pretending that they want to help the residents.

The Nairobi Women’s Hospital Chief Executive Officer, Dr Sam Nthenya, said his hospital has treated over 12,000 cases of sexual and domestic violence in its Gender Violence Recovery centre. Child rights organisations are concerned that only a few of the cases of abuse are reported. Most abused children prefer to say nothing for fear of repercussions.

Some of these cases have, however, found their way to the courts, although there are complaints of justice being slow and sometimes compromised. In 2008, a court ordered the CID to investigate corruption claims in a defilement case.

The mother of a five year old girl who had been abused complained to the Attorney-General that the investigating officer approached her on behalf of the accused and offered Sh50,000 to withdraw the case.

On Wednesday, former nominated MP Njoki Ndung’u asked the government investigate Father Kizito. “I don’t understand why the police have not taken legal action,” she said.

She called on the Children’s Department to check orphanages to protect the welfare of children. On Wednesday, police said they were making good progress in the eight cases of sexual abuse of children which they are investigating.