For 12-year old Matilda, the horrendous Covid-19 will remain etched in her mind. Not because of the huge toll it has taken on people across the globe or how negatively it has impacted on Kenyans. Her focus is on the uncertainty and devastation it has dragged into her young life-and future.
Only about five weeks ago as she ran home that afternoon after school was ordered closed indefinitely, she was full of life and beautiful dreams.
She is now lost as she ponders her future. She is a bundle of miserable and a few weeks pregnant. Her situation has thrown her mother and siblings into a state of confusion, anger and uncertainty. Her father ran away from home last week as soon as it was discovered that he was the man responsible for her current state. He had taken to defiling her, amid death threats, almost soon after restriction measures including calls to stay at home were enforced.
A community leader who is helping the family, based in Siaya County, deal with the situation says his wife, who was away at work leaving him behind, caught him red-handed defiling the child. Police are on the case, she says.
Another girl also aged 12, is going through similar difficulties in an estate in Nairobi.
She is also a few weeks pregnant, following sexual abuse and defilement by a close relative, a guardian she has been living with, now on the run, after he was caught. The matter has been reported to the police.
The married head of the family is reported to have been threatening the 12-year old with dire consequences should she speak out. He has been taking advantage of his wife’s absence during the day to force himself on the Standard Six girl. His wife does odd jobs for a living.
“Our focus now is on helping and rescuing these young survivors to pick up the pieces so that they do not give up on life, as we call out on families to speak out and break the silence on sexual and gender violence,’’ says Ms Editar Ochieng of Feminist for Peace Rights &Justice Centre based in Kibera.
Ms Mary Makokha, a rights campaigner based in Busia County narrates horrendous incidents of violence subjected mainly to girls in the area since containment measures were announced in March.
“We are getting a lot of cases and reports of incest, sexual and gender-based violence, child marriages including a murder, on the ground, especially against girls, some of them very vulnerable such as orphans and women,’’ says Ms Makokha, executive director of local NGO Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Program (REEP).
The young Nairobi and Siaya survivors of surging violence against women may or may not be among the 160 cases of sexual and gender-based violence reported to the 1195 helpline in the first week of May.
An analysis of the reports made between May 1 and 7, shows that defilement of girls tops the list followed by rape of women. Child neglect is also among the main types of violence reported.
The trend is similar with data from Childline Kenya, an organization that works in partnership with government to stop child abuse and provide a safe environment children of both gender.
Ms Martha Sunda, Childline Kenya’s executive director says most reports on violation of children made to their 24-hour toll free helpline 116, a national service dedicated to children, are on sexual abuse.
“From the 20-25 calls on violations against children that we receive per week, those on sexual abuse (defilement) lead,’’ says Ms Sunda, citing child neglect, physical violence and child labour as other main violations.
Last week for instance, Ms Sunda says, Childline Kenya received seven reports of children between six to 14 years who had been subjected to defilement.
“And more than 90 per cent (of the cases reported) are perpetrated by people who are well known to the children,’’ she adds.
The data collected through Healthcare Assistance Kenya (HAK) which operates the 1195 helpline under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Service and Gender, is analysed weekly and presented to the national Covid-19 GBV Technical Working Group among other stakeholders “to inform decision making.’’
In the seven days, the cases of gender violence reported had women as majority victims at 125, compared to 35 men affected. Girls were at 17 per cent girls while boys were at six per cent.
“Women aged between 18-29 years are mostly affected by GBV incidences accounting for 27.5 per cent followed by women aged between 30-45 years with 25 per cent of all cases,’’ the 1195 hotline report says.
It adds that men affected by GBV reported in the same period were in similar age category with the primary violations being physical assault, psychological (emotional) torture and neglect of children.
Generally, statistics that continue to be released after March 13, by different organisations show a continuous spike with Nairobi leading the pack.
In this 1195 report, it is followed by Mombasa, Kiambu, Kisumu, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Kakamega, Kwale, Meru and Muranga.
Women rights campaigners have been asking the government to intervene and respond to SGBV as part of measures to deal Covid-19.
Ms Mercy Jelimo, a leadership and governance officer at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (Creaw Kenya), suggests that in addition to stern action against perpetrators, the government must also provide economic stimulus package to vulnerable families and ensure increased messaging on SGBV.
“For far too long, the government has invested on response intervention,’’ Ms Jelimo says, “This Covid-19 clearly highlights the need to focus on prevention interventions that will comprehensively address drivers of harmful social norms.’’ She notes that the government should also highlight (in their messaging) ways of managing relations and promotion of mental health well-being.
Last Thursday, during the Ministry of Health daily briefing on the state of coronavirus in the country, Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi pledged government action on the same.
Top officials of World Vision who made a donation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the ministry, spoke of the need to protect children especially, from abuse or violations of their rights during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Learning from our experiences while responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we are mostly concerned about the secondary impacts of Covid-19 on children, which could lead in unprecedented levels of school drop-outs, malnutrition, child labour, mental health challenges in children amongst others,’’ said Ms Lilian Dodzo, World Vision Kenya’s National Director.
Unicef, which works to promote rights of children, says it is working with Kenya’s Department of Children’s Services to provide management services to girls and boys – survivors of violence.
In their joint effort to help fight violence, Unicef and partner UN agencies in Kenya, UN Women and UNFPA, are also working with the national child and GBV hotlines to increase psychosocial support closely through telephone and chat counselling services, according to the organisations.