The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Child Abuse Is Now an Epidemic

opinion

The rape and killing of four-year-old girl in Kizingo, Mombasa is a classic example of continued violation of women's and girls' rights. The girl was defiled and strangled on the New Year's eve sending a chilling message to women and girls countrywide even as elections draw nigh.

Mombasa residents pointed accusing fingers at two men, one of whom worked in a hotel near where the girl's body was found. One of the suspects has been arrested but questions abound on the veracity of law enforcers in dealing with such heinous crimes against humanity.

All that the Mombasa police boss Kipkemboi Rop said is that investigations are ongoing. It is important to note that the silence on such heinous crimes has been broken but the vice still persists.

Gender-based violence is no longer treated as a private matter and has gained public prominence amongst Kenyans. However, the progress in investigating and nailing violence against women perpetrators seems to be painfully slow.

In Coast province alone, a local women's organisation Sauti ya Wanawake Pwani reports more than 10 cases of child defilement were under investigation by the close of 2012. Numerous other cases have been thrown out of court for lack of evidence or interference with evidence by the law enforcers in collusion with the perpetrators.

Although some efforts have been made to deal with violence against women, a lot still remains to be done to deconstruct the inherent cultural and religious underpinnings and causes of violence against women.

We have not penetrated the mindset that somewhere in every single culture gives permission to violence, anticipates violence, waits for violence and instigates violence against women.

It is no wonder that 60 per cent of women in a survey conducted late last year in neighbouring Uganda approved a wife battering culture. In Kenya we have continued to see the very ugly head of misogyny in full throttle in different spaces and contexts.

Female genital mutilation, wife battering and gender-based rituals continue to maim women in various parts of Kenya all in the name of culture.

]We have been socialised in a way that makes us think that violence is part of our culture. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Now that both state and non state actors have acknowledged that violence against women is a public issue and a human rights concern, there is need address cases like the Kizingo one with the severity it deserves.

Women across Kenya continue to live in fear due to opportunistic forms of violence that are presented by security and conflict situations and it is time the government puts in place proper mechanisms to address this vice.

One of the main concerns for years has been silence, secrecy, and the taboo within which violence against women has been thriving. The silence and cycle of violence against women seems to be persistent not just at the Coast but in all other regions of Kenya.

The work done by the National Gender and Equality Commission, the Coalition on Violence Against Women and the Federation of Women Layers-Kenya among others in building social movements of change agents who are opposed to and committed to eradicating violence against women is commendable. There is need to name and shame violence against women for what it is -- a human rights violation.

Not so many weeks ago, November 23 last year Covaw launched the "Use your ballot not my body" campaign to petition the government to put mechanisms in place to protect women and girls against gender-based election violence.

This campaign being undertaken under Peace Initiative Kenya project seeks to empower Kenyans to become leaders or elected leaders who care enough to say no to gender-based violence. "Use the ballot not my body" is a campaign that calls for a violence-free elections.

Covaw launched this national petition rolling-out from November 23, 2012 to February 23, 2013 which is the official end date of the campaign period according to the IEBC calendar.

The campaign aims to collect at least one million signatures from citizens of Kenya to petition the government and all relevant duty bearers to protect women and girls during the upcoming election period. The history as was witnessed during the 2007-08 post-election violence must not repeat itself.

The state has a big role to provide the legislative framework, social mechanisms and institutions to serve as custodians of human and gender rights.

The writer is the media and peace coordinator for Peace Initiative Kenya Project, International Rescue Committee

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