The evil of sexual abuse of Kenya’s children, specifically defilement of girls, has become a huge monster in the country, a reality that has to be confronted and fought vigorously.
We interacted with at least 30 minors, for about two weeks, from different backgrounds, living in three shelters in Nairobi and its environs. The girls are between seven and 17 years. All are victims of defilement, but only a few of them harbour the hope of getting justice since their attackers are still as free as birds, as the few wheels of justice continue to grind painfully slowly.
A casual look at these girls is not likely to give much. They look as ordinary as any girl their age. However, the consequences of the sexual abuse they have been subjected to are ingrained deeply, each of them affected in a different way.
The depth gets clearer as we get to know some of them on individual basis. Their abusers range from close relatives and people they have known and trusted, who include biological and stepfathers. Others were literally handed out to paedophiles by their mothers and relatives. The effects of these inhuman acts are profound, as we would find out.
(We will use first names only to protect the identities of the minors) At only seven years, Kate, took up the responsibility of fending for her two siblings after their mother abandoned them, leaving them at the mercy of a perpetual drunkard father, who did not provide for them. He immediately took to sexually abusing the little girl.
Good Samaritans had tried to help her get an education until she dropped out at Class Seven. To escape the trauma she was going through, she decided to run away from home. A good Samaritan ‘rescued’ her from the streets and employed her as a househelp. Besides working as help, the “Good Samaritan” turned out to be a pimp. She would offer her to men for a fee. On the verge of breaking down, the now 13-year-old girl confided in a neighbour, who took her to a children’s officer. She was rescued and taken to a shelter in Nairobi. She is now in school and the management describes her as an A student.
Kate is a soft-spoken teenage who loves children at the home. You are likely to catch her in the evening helping them out with their homework. Recently, she was taken ill and was admitted to hospital. Two days later, the hospital summoned her guardians and asked them to take her.
A doctor and a nurse described her as a “serious risk” and added that she was undisciplined. This shocked them. Apparently, Kate would sneak into the male wards, where she would engage in sex with the male patients.
“She is a great girl and very helpful around others,’’ says Nerea, the institution’s nurse, “But we noticed a few days after her arrival that she would develop a certain aggression whenever there was a man around. This is still the case, she becomes very visible and agitated, we don’t know what this behaviour is and don’t know how to deal with it,” she says.
This aggressive sexual baheviour is reffered to as hypersexuality, addiction to sex, says Dr Joachim Osur, a Sexual and Reproductive Health clinician.
But why would a child who has suffered years of sexual violence become addicted to sex?
“These children have suffered bad trauma psychologically to the extent that they will go for more sex in an attempt to relieve the trauma,’’ says Dr Osur.
He adds: “Victims do not really enjoy the sex; in fact, they feel sad and guilty, but are unable to stop the humiliating behaviour. The more they do it, the more they feel hurt,” the doctor says of what he terms a paradox of an injured mind.
And, he notes, the addiction has really nothing to do with the length or number of times that a child may have been sexually molested. It could even have been once.
Maria’s story is similar to that of Kate. She was 10 when her mother died. She was left under the care of relatives in one of the rural counties in Western Kenya. A year later, two other relatives took her to their home in Nairobi to work as a domestic worker. It’s here that she was subjected to repeated physical violence until neighbours informed the authorities.
“She had scars all over her body,’’ says a counsellor at the rescue centre that Maria calls home. The management later found out that the 12-year-old had also been subjected to sexual abuse for the years she lived in her rural area, and also by the relatives she was rescued from. Three days after Maria was admitted to the home, the counsellor says, other girls became uncomfortable with her.
“They reported that she would call some of them to a secluded area in the compound and plead with them to touch her private parts. She would also sneak off with some of the men that worked at the institution to engage in sex.”
The matter was reported to police and the men were arrested. They were charged with defilement, and the case is pending before a Nairobi court. The institution has since stopped hiring men.
Rebecca, 13, was rescued from the abusive hands of her mother and her lover. The man started abusing the child when she was only 10 years.
In addition, it also dawned on County Children’ Officers who rescued her that her mother used to freely allow men to defile her and would be paid for it. Her partner, meanwhile, also took to sexually abusing her, infecting her with the HIV virus.
When the institution took her for a medical check-up last year, the little girl confided in a doctor that she had been defiled by at least 19 men (the ones she was able to recall) in 2017 alone. Like Kate and Maria, she has exhibited the same aggressive sexual behaviour.
Ms Edith Murogo, executive director of the Centre for Domestic Training and Development, which runs a shelter for girls, says that the society must begin to pay serious attention to sexual abuse against children given the permanent effect it has on their lives.
“They (sexual abusers and their sympathisers) must be made to know the consequences of sexual abuse against children,” says Ms Murogo, whose shelter has rescued more than 400 girls since its inception in 2011.
According to Ms Murogo, many centres sheltering such girls have not been able to identify the problem of sexual addiction among some of the youngsters.
“It is treated as a case of indiscipline yet this is far from the case. Such girls need to get specialised treatment by experts,’’ she says.
Handed out to defilers and rapists
When her father passed away, Sheila was devastated. She did not need anyone to tell her that his death signalled a bleak future for her. For instance, her hope of continuing with her education was gone.
A few months after her father’s death, a paternal uncle came visiting. He offered to educate her, saying, he would enrol her to a school in Nairobi. The mother gladly let Sheila go. She moved into her uncle’s house in the outskirts of Nairobi and joined Form One in a day school.
When not in school, she would do house work and cook for herself and her bachelor uncle. The first 10 months were okay, but one evening, her uncle invited himself into her bed, where he defiled her. She endured the abuse for months. Consequently, she became pregnant.
He took her to a quack in Kawangware (in the outskirts of Nairobi) who performed an abortion. The man continued to sexually abuse her, and when she conceived again, he took her to the same quack for a second abortion. This time round, the distraught girl confided in a neighbour who took her to the local police station. Her abuser was arrested and she was taken to a shelter whose management has taken her to a boarding school. Her case drags on in court.
“She was deeply traumatised and miserable when she got here,’’ says a counsellor who received her at the home. Although she is happy to be here with other girls, she still cries a lot.”
At the same shelter, Millie, 10, is carrying an exercise book and a pen. In this book, she has written what she thinks about her father, who sexually abused her two years ago. When she told her mother what had happened, she simply ignored her. The abuse continued. All the mother did was to show the little girl how to clean herself afterwards.
It was the girl’s teacher who came to her rescue on discovering that she walked with difficulty, leading to her father’s arrest. In this letter to her father, she tells him how much she regrets being his daughter, and wonders whether he is, indeed, her biological father. She also tells him how much she hates him and how happy she is that she no longer lives with him. In the meantime, the little one is waiting for her day in court to testify against her father.
These two minors are among a number that we interacted with in the past 10 weeks, in two shelters that rescue girls from abusive situations. Sheila and Millie draw a disturbing picture of how some parents, mothers in these two cases, literally hand over their children to defilers and paedophiles in the name of seeking help. In Sheila’s case for instance, why did her mother trust an unmarried male relative with the life of her young daughter? And in Millie’s disturbing case, what would make a mother sit back and watch and even help her husband to defile her seven-year-old daughter?