Kenya: Lobby Proposes Tougher Laws for Male Sex Pests

(file photo).

An organisation in Kibera is proposing castration as one of the methods of punishing men who sexually abuse children as a means of discouraging the vice.

The Kibera Young Women's Network, jolted by the defilement cases recently reported in the slum, says it is currently preparing a petition to Parliament that will propose castration so that male sex pests do not harm any more children. Also, it is proposing abolishment of the right to bail for defilement suspects among other tough measures.

"Rape has been normalised in Kibera. When it is reported, the perpetrators bribe their way out," says Ms Editaa Achieng, the founder of the network. But the vice is not just rampant in Kibera. Cases of Kenyan children being sexually abused in homes and schools are rampant.

SUFFERING

An average of 4,000 cases of sexual abuse occur yearly. Half of them involve children and are reported by the Nairobi Women's Gender Violence Recovery Centre alone. Most of them involve children between the ages of 11 and 17 and there are many other cases that go unreported.

And, contrary to what many believe, this vice is not a preserve of low-income people. Even children in middle and upper class groups are suffering, many in silence.

Experts say one effective way of dealing with the vice is for parents to talk to their children about sex as parents who find it uncomfortable to teach their children on this subject are inadvertently helping rapists get away with their crimes.

Ms Maryann Njihia, a counsellor, says it is important for parents to talk about sex to their children in an age-appropriate way. "For example, teach your child about the sexual parts and their privacy. This will help the child to open up to you in case someone touched them in an inappropriate way," Ms Njihia told the Sunday Nation.

ATTACKERS

"As the children grow up and start asking questions related to sex, don't dismiss them or tell them it is tabia mbaya (bad manners). As a parent, find out how much they know about sex and how they got the information. Rectify any misinformation and tell the facts depending on their age. This will open up discussions between parents and children on sex," advised Ms Njihia.

Ms Bellah Achieng, also working with the Kibera Young Women's Network, which handles many sexual abuse cases, said that once people get over the shame associated with sex, children would also be free to talk about it and possibly even ward off attackers.

"If a child knows that nobody is allowed to touch their private parts and that they should scream and make noise, rapists will not be getting away. This can only happen if parents are more open with their children and not letting the burden of teaching them about sex fall on teachers," she said.

In one of the latest cases her group has dealt with in Kibera, six children were defiled by the same man.

UNREPORTED

The network's founder, Editaa, said that of the six, four reported the crime to the authorities. Parents of the other two, she noted, opted to keep quiet because they feared that the community would judge them harshly.

Ms Alberta Wambua, the executive director of the Gender Violence Recovery Centre at the Nairobi Women's Hospital, says some victims do not report cases due to lack of awareness on what to do.

"Shame and guilt, cultural beliefs and practices contribute to cases being solved privately," she says. One mother in her early 30s said her house-help has reported to her instances where one of the neighbours' children "mounts" the little girls in their apartment while playing.

"Concerned parents raised the issue in our common WhatsApp group and it was discovered that the boy, who is about four, still shares a room with his parents," she said.

INAPPROPRIATE

"Children learn best through observation and copying. This makes the parents and the caregivers their role models in life," said Ms Njihia.

"It will be inappropriate for parents to engage in sexual behaviour in the presence of their children."

She goes on: "In my view, the children can sleep away from their parents' bed as early as they start weaning. This is because they don't need that frequent feeding throughout the night. When you see a boy "mounting" other children, it's most likely an unconscious act."

"However, it is important to note that this is not always the case as some children who have been exposed to the sexual act by either watching or actually being sexually involved, will exhibit such behaviour. In fact, this is one of the signs to look for in sexually abused children," explained the counsellor.

BLOOD STAINS

A woman who was molested at the age of 10 by an older cousin told the Sunday Nation that she can recognise a sex abuse victim from a mile away. She cited an incident where a little girl in their apartment block was walking in an unusual way.

"On closer examination, I noticed that her dress was soiled with blood stains. I reported the matter to her mum who was nonchalant about the issue," narrated the woman.

It turned out the woman's husband, who was not the girl's biological father, was molesting her and the mother did not want to rock her marriage.

Sexual molestation in children is the elephant in the room and hardly do the victims or their families talk about it.

Ms Hellen Gathogo, a social worker, paralegal and counsellor who has been rescuing and rehabilitating abused girls in Laikipia North - where the vice is rampant - said culture is a contributor.

FINED CASH

"Unfortunately, these cases don't get to the police as most are solved at home by elders and local chiefs," said Ms Gathogo.

"The perpetrators are fined cash or animals paid to the violated party. These acts are responsible for the rising number of HIV cases in the county. Pregnancy and other STIs are also on the rise," she added.

"It is a cultural challenge as some of these communities do not see anything wrong with men having sex with five-year-old girls after a "beading" ceremony (a practice among the Samburu community where girls as young as five are allowed to have a 'boyfriend')," she explained. "Once beaded, the child is handed over to a mature relative who "protects" her from other men in exchange for sexual favours." Ms Njihia says most sex abuse cases in Kenya go unreported.

PYSCHOLOGICAL

"Most of the offenders are people close to the family so the cases are dealt with at that level as the parents don't want to "spoil" the family name with something so shameful. The children are left suffering psychologically and physically," she said.

The Sunday Nation spoke to a 28-year-old woman who was sexually abused as a child by an uncle. She said parents should be wary of who interacts with their children.

"As parents, we need to be careful about who our children associate with when not around as most of the offenders are people well known to the child," advises Ms Njihia.

She adds that although sexual education is important, parents have to be careful what they share with children.

FAMILY VALUES

"In every developmental stage, there's what a child can grasp in terms of sexual education. Do not bombard children with sexual details if they have not attained a certain age.

"For instance, a three-year-old can be taught about private parts - vagina, penis and anus in a friendly child's language. Teach them that nobody should touch or see them. This is the time you also instil family values that you would like your child to have," she said.

In addition to protecting themselves, children who have an awareness of sex abuse will also respect other people's sexuality.

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