His round eyes, glisten with tears as he looks up at his parents, shaking his head to indicate that he will not sit down. They acknowledge his pain by assuring him that he does not have to sit if it hurts to do so. He is only 3 years old and he has experienced gruesome penile-anal penetration by a cousin living with them. He does not comprehend the whole situation while the parents do not fathom that his innocence is now stolen. He gets as comfortable as he can since having others acknowledge the pain and being made aware that he is at the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital to get medical assistance, somehow makes the pain a bit bearable emotionally and physically.
In only the last 2 months, April and May 2016, 140 Kenyan parents presented their children for treatment at GVRC’s Nairobi Women’s Hospital after suspecting or determining sexual abuse. 32% of survivors experience gender based violence at home while 7% at school. 64% of these violent incidences are by someone known to the survivor. About 44% of the 3,366 survivors seen at the GVRC between April 2015 and March 2016 are children. Girls sadly take up the bigger proportion at 37%.
It is not easy to detect sexual abuse in a child especially in children who cannot express themselves. Parents are advised to bring in their children if they notice an unusual discharge, smell or soreness from the reproductive organs or unexplained bruises. The child may also start exhibiting fear of being left alone with an individual. Additionally, they may start using adult-like words for body parts with no obvious source, acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys, objects or friends. Some tend to experience nightmares or become unusually clingy or secretive. In adolescents, behaviours such as running away from home, extreme interest in sex, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse become synonymous with exposure to abuse.
Of all the survivors experiencing sexual, physical and emotional violence as children, only 10% receive professional help yet children who witness or undergo these incidences may either encounter recurrent/serial abuse or turn into perpetrators. Between the period April and May 2016, 36 minors presented at GVRC were violated by fellow minors. There are only 3 Borstal institutions in Kenya for male offenders between the ages of 15-18 years, leaving the younger offenders at the mercy of a society that has no capacity to address the psychological needs of child survivors. This leads to repeat offences by the minors and recidivism after retribution in Borstal institutions for the minor offenders facing legal justice.
On this Day of the African Child whose theme; Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting all Children’s Rights, GVRC recognizes that to fight injustice and violence against children, we must begin in the home because if one cannot be safe in their own homes then we cannot expect anyone to be safe anywhere else. Children learn from surrounding caregivers and family members. Minor offenders thus simulate negative behaviour from their personal experience or social learning. The first and most obvious book for children is the parents or caregivers. We should therefore be more concerned of the example we set for our children than what we expect them in school or our advise. A crisis therefore looms within the family structure.
With support from the Royal Danish Embassy of Kenya (DANIDA), GVRC is committed to bringing back meaning to the lives of survivors and their families. In giving medical treatment and offering psychological services, survivors are able to prevent repeat recurrences of gender based violence hence lessening the likelihood of them converting to perpetrators. In close partnership with DANIDA, GVRC is proud to be involved in school outreach programs across the country that strive to raise awareness on primary prevention of gender based violence and enhancement of child protection. These programs reinforce the right of the child to health, education, personal development and family environment.
As we honor children on this day, take a moment and recognize, It starts with me…It starts with my home.