Practitioners in the field of child sexual exploitation and abuse say the rosy picture created by the “Out of the shadows” report should not fool the country into slowing down on its efforts to combat the menace.
They say lack of accurate data, failure to report incidences, informal justice systems and corruption have clouded the picture and left out many incidents.
Paul Adhoch, Executive Director of Trace Kenya says the Kenyan picture appears rosy partly because the Kenyan child may not have gone through the episodes of extreme violence or strife as have their counterparts in other parts of the country.
The fact that abuses happen at family level, perpetrated by relatives, most cases tend not to be reported, or are swept under the carpet under the guise of protecting family honour.
“Beyond the sound laws and policies, the problem remains that of implementation. We have the best forensic tracking system for online child sexual exploitation across the region, but other factors hinder our ability to make proper use of these advantages to the benefit of our children,” he says.
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Mary Makokha, the director of Busia-based Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme, blames the “façade” presented out there on runaway corruption, patriarchy, inadequate statistics, retrogressive taboos, defeatist policies and poverty. “The number of cases are far much higher than those reported. Since I started out in 1998, I have recorded close to 14,000 cases in Busia alone. And that is just the tip of the ice berg because I can’t be everywhere in Busia,” Makokha says.
She said communities live in denial and that the criminal system has a very short- term view of justice for victims, often leaving them at the mercy of the perpetrators.
“On top of the victim, those of us working to bring out these issues live in grave danger once cases are concluded or arrests made. Because of our porous justice system, corruption and with connivance of victim families, danger lurks and nobody seems to care,” she says.
Eunice Kilundo, child protection manager, Child Fund Kenya says apart from the laws, strategies and policies, Kenya still has a long way to go in addressing the underlying causes of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
She cites the role of poverty, technology and culture while vouching for increased inter agency collaborations to narrow the opportunities for abuse.
“Take Nyumba Kumi for instance. We are fully aligned on its overall security function but very little on how we could leverage on it to protecting our children from these forms of abuses,” she notes, something Tsitsi Matekaire of Equality Now fully agrees with:
“Kenya needs to adopt and implement legislative, judicial, administrative, educative, and other appropriate measures by engaging a range of private, public and governmental authorities to complement and support each other’s efforts.”
Kilundo says communities ought to appreciate the fact that government cannot be everywhere and step in to protect children. She also says parents, families and learning institutions should empower children to be able to protect themselves.
According to Althena Morgana, the regional manager of International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, Kenya is doing better than her African peers in combating children sexual exploitation and abuse, especially online abuse.
The upgrading of Children Act to cover and punish forms of online exploitation, investigative agencies investment in modern tools for combating the vice, and increased awareness of other stakeholders on emerging forms of child abuse have enabled Kenya to be a step ahead of the rest.
“You find parents buying their children mobile phones, but they do not want to take full responsibility of what it actually means for a minor to possess such device. Rarely do they prepare their children on both the risks and the opportunities those devices accord them,” she says. A child is then left to discover on their own a new world out there, placing themselves in the line of sexual predators and other forms of dangers.
In a 2019 study conducted for “Together for Girls”, of the 14 countries sampled on the percentage of youth who experienced sexual violence prior to the age of 18, Kenyan boys scored the second highest response after Haiti.
The girls score was among the highest of the 14 sampled with Eswatini topping at 38, Uganda 35 and Zimbabwe 33. Kenya was beaten in these scores by historically troubled countries like Haiti, Cambodia, El Salvador, Rwanda and Honduras.
“If the picture is so rosy as it seems, why did Kenya come number three world over in teen pregnancies over the Covid period? We have work to do, let’s roll up our sleeves,” Makokha sums it up.