25 September 2018

Kenya: Worrying Trend As Child Abductions, Killings On the Rise

Photo: Evans Habil/Nairobi News
Sharon Otieno’s parents Melida Auma and Douglas Otieno at the Milimani court in Nairobi.

Nairobi — The chilling news of abduction and subsequent murder of a nine-year-old girl in Meru, was just another reminder of how Kenyan children are increasingly becoming vulnerable.

Maribel Kapolon, police said, was tortured before she was killed by her abductors. She was a daughter to Resident Magistrate of Githongo Law Courts, Carolyne Kemei.

She went missing for 10 days, only for her body to be recovered in Gitoro Forest within the county.

She was still in her school uniform.

Kapolon was abducted by a man she referred to as "uncle" according to witness accounts and a police statement.

Even before the dust settled, another 11-year-old child was found murdered on Sunday in Machakos after missing for 24 hours.

He was kidnapped while heading to school for tuition.

Both cases are active in court but are cut from the same cloth, the motive notwithstanding - a child was kidnapped and killed.

Mercy's (not her real name) story is a little bit different.

She left her three-year-old daughter with her brother for a few hours and did not have a reason to worry.

After all, she told herself, this is her brother with his niece.

"When I returned, she was crying terribly and did not even want to look at him," she recalls.

"She is either sleepy or just her normal nagging way," she thought, a consolation that only lasted until the fateful evening when she discovered something amiss on her daughter's private parts.

Her fears were confirmed by a doctor.

"Though there was no penetration, but she (her daughter) had been molested," the doctor affirmed.

These are just a few cases that have happened within a span of less than a month and despite being rampant, experts feel that authorities are not doing enough to protect children.

In 2016, a four-year-old girl was raped by her biological father in Meru county.

Not once, not twice, but several times until he was exposed.

He is currently serving a life sentence.

On Monday, a group of women in Turkana held protests over increased cases of abuse against children.

The protests were triggered by a recent rape incident involving a minor.

In 2017, 391 cases of child abuse were reported between October and December as captured in a recent report by Childline Kenya.

Over 30,000 cases of child abuse were reported in Kenya over the past 10 years through the national child helpline service 116.

- Negligence? -

Who is to blame? It is a question whose response cannot be found without pointing fingers.

While experts say police and child protection officers have a mandate to enforce the law, parents too have a lion's share on their children safety.

Security expert George Musamali spoke to Capital FM News over the increased cases of child insecurity.

He says children remain a soft target for criminals, with a majority of the culprits known to them.

"Of all the 98 per cent cases I have dealt with, it is people known to those children who were used to commit an offence," he says.

"Crime against the child has really increased in Kenya and it is a worrying trend. Initially, we used to hear cases of kidnapping and this was purely for ransom, we moved on to abductions and later we have sexual harassment of the child.

"Not only against the girl child but even boys. Cases of defilement and sodomy against the boy child are on the upsurge... even child labour."

The law is clear, he says, "safety of the child is a responsibility of the parents. Anything happens to this child and we find out that it was due to negligence on the side of parents, you should be held culpable."

Musamali regrets that currently, authorities "investigate crimes against the child as if it is the child who was the problem."

But children are not with their parents 24 hours a day.

This is however not an excuse, he says, adding that parents should ensure that security measures are put in place in all the jurisdictions their children will be.

Whether at home, school, inside a religious institution like a church or a mosque and so on.

"We must have different measures to ensure that the child is secure in all the environments," he asserts.

"Very few parents in Kenya are conscious about the security of their children."

Many parents, he contends, hand over their children to schools and other places without confirming the security measures in place.

Of the many measures one can adopt, the Nairobi-based security expert says, one may go the tech way.

"We have biometric systems for monitoring the child wherever he or she is. But it also depends with the security risks facing the child," he says.

One school uses this to monitor whether students attended school or not.

- Sensitize your children about their safety -

His advice to parents is to sensitise children about their safety.

A child, he insists must be educated on what to do in case he or she finds themselves in a hostile situation.

"It is very easy; tell them who to trust and who not to trust. Put boundaries of who interacts with your child at what time and at what point," he says.

Indicators of abuse, he says are always there.

"When we bring people in our families, for example, we must be very careful. You are a single parent, be very careful. You must observe their actives all the time. You will see changes in your spouse or child behaviour."

Any security measure adopted must involve the child.

- The 3 D principle in securing your child -

While the dangers of insecurity cannot be fully eliminated, they can be reduced.

One is through denying culprits the opportunity to stage their evil schemes.

If it is not possible, detection should be immediate.

"Immediately a child is missing, the parents, school and authorities should be able to know and even the community. That is detection," he points out.

The third element of physical security is deterrence.

"Let us put measures that will deter people from even thinking that they can commit a crime against the child," he says.

Deterrence measures can be through enforcement of legal measures, technology and so on.

- Child desk in the police station -

There are children help desks in all police stations in the country, but the safety of a child can only be guaranteed through a multi-sectoral approach.

It is the case, at least in writing, but not a reality on the ground.

"Are these children help desks properly resourced?" Musamali, rhetorically asked.

"Because what we see is a policewoman, who has only been trained on general duties and if she has received any training of child support, it is something we can say is not good enough."

But in this case, it is a mitigating measure since already a crime has been committed against a child.

"Police are only there to offer support but we are not using them as a preventive measure is a crime against the child," he noted.

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