There is a group of the most vulnerable that require our very special care and attention during this dreaded Covid-19 period. Indications, however, are that they’re not quite receiving it.
The fact that our lives have drastically changed in the past three months since the safety measures to beat the deadly pandemic were announced, bringing with them untold anxiety, is not a reason for anyone to shun their responsibility to the most vulnerable in society or take advantage of their fragility to violate and abuse them.
My statement may sound general but I have a number of examples of inhumane acts against children, elderly women and young and older women with disability in recent times that I can cite. But my space here is limited. They have either been sexually molested, physically assaulted or emotionally abused during this period, though some of the perpetrators would like us to believe that they were driven to committing the crimes by the stress arising from the pandemic, such as economic and other hardships.
This is an excuse that should not be tolerated. Who has not been affected by the crisis? How is it that the person to vent your ‘anger’ on is the one closest to you — your family? My take is that any perpetrator or abuser of these ills — including those who defile children in incestuous situations under the cover and safety of their contaminated four walls of their homes — no matter their standing and status in society, must be dealt with ruthlessly according to the relevant law.
I’ve two examples, both from the Nyanza region. These cases, recently reported in the media, involve serious assault against a child and a woman perpetrated by family members.
The man is said to have battered a minor under his care, having taken over responsibility for the 13-year-old boy from a close relative. By the time the minor was rescued and taken to hospital, his body was full of wounds and scars. At the hospital, the man had the audacity — and with a straight face — to tell the medics that he was “disciplining” him! Thankfully, the hospital’s management had the sagacity to call the police on him. I hope that he has had his day in court.
The other incident involves a middle-aged mother, clearly a victim of not only physical violence, but also of deep emotional abuse. She sat on her hospital bed with a chopped-off finger, near-broken legs and deep cuts on the arms as she meekly narrated the abuse at the hands of her husband. By press time, the woman was still admitted to a private health facility in Migori County and the man “on the run”.
As I write this, I’ve a photograph in front of me. It is of a 15-year-old girl. Wearing a distant look, the teenager is clearly emaciated, a bundle of misery. Her arms are bandaged nearly up to the shoulder while both hands have glaring burn scars that seem to be healing. She is a victim of violence, courtesy of a family member in collusion with another person.
The minor is supposed to be in school but is not. She is going through a hard time emotionally. Her abusers are reportedly on the run.
Family, neighbours, friends and community members can be an important lifeline to those in abusive situations, including domestic and all other forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). If one knows of, suspects or is worried that a woman, child or even a man is a victim of such violence, please assist them to get help, including by making reports to the police. A number of women and child rights advocates and some civil society organisations have since established toll-free helplines, where SGBV victims can be assisted, including legal redress and counselling. Most of them have their contacts on social media platforms.
It’s also encouraging to note that Nairobi City County has joined the campaign and established a helpline, whose hotline they have been advertising in the media.
For anyone who feels at risk of abuse, try and get away and seek help. You are not alone.
Ms Rugene, a consulting editor, is the founder of The Woman’s Newsroom Foundation. [email protected] @nrugene