The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

Slow but sure: Challenges facing child protection efforts

Health & Science
 Maka Kassim, chairperson of the Human Rights Network, speaks at Kamuthe Ward Fafi Sub County Garissa County ona September 11, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

While most of her agemates had barely forgotten the scent of their mother’s bosoms and were only starting to develop their own gender features, 11-year-old Sahara Abdullahi welcomed her firstborn child. 

About two years earlier, Sahara’s parents and community had seen it fit for her to undergo female genital mutilation. Unfortunately, they also decided that she was ripe for marriage. 

Nine years and four children later, Sahara knows too well what it’s like to have one’s dreams cut short. 

“My children are aged nine, seven, five and one,” she says, laughing shyly, perhaps acknowledging the weight and absurdity of her reality.  

“My husband takes care of most of our needs, but it has been difficult, especially with the drought.” 

Sahara is a member of the Somali community of North Eastern Kenya, which, at over 90 per cent, has the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM), according to researchers from Kenyatta University. 

Maka Kassim, chairperson of the Human Rights Network, works tirelessly to create awareness among men and women, hoping to bring much-needed protection for children in her community. 

Her grassroots organisation partners with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Action Aid, among other organisations, to engage in community dialogue to end this practice. Though progress is slow, she has seen a change in attitudes.

“When I started this work, my husband denounced and separated from me. It was tough, but I knew I was doing it for a bigger cause,” says Maka. “During reconciliation, I challenged him to prove one instance where I went against the teachings of the Quran.” 

In time, Maka says, her husband became her biggest supporter, using his influence in the community as a religious teacher to reach other men. He supported her work until his death. 

Maka invites us to join one of her Barazas in a remote village in Iftan sub-county, Garissa. A group of old and younger men settles beside a group of women, eagerly listening and participating in child-protection discussions, something Maka tells us was unimaginable a few years back.

“Children need your love, provision, and education. So hug them, listen to them, take them to school, and see if they don’t turn out alright,” Maka tells the gathering.

Mzee Ramadhan, one of the older participants, echoes Maka’s statements but also explains some challenges undermining child protection efforts, including out-of-court settlements of child violation incidents.

“Out-of-court settlements do not favour the interest of our children, but I also think it is important to explain why people opt for them sometimes,” he says. “The roads are underdeveloped, the clinics and police stations far and hard to reach, and sometimes we’re required to make several trips for case processing.”

Although Mzee Ramadhan cites a few instances where justice has been served, he says most cases reach a dead end, due to loss of evidence and corruption.

“We often lack transport and money to buy food during the trips. We also leave other children and daily activities unattended. In the end, the whole exercise becomes too troublesome and settling out of court becomes an option, albeit not the best,” Mzee Ramadhan says.

UNICEF’s child protection specialist, Zeinab Ahmed, acknowledges this problem. 

“There’s a need for a one-stop centre for addressing gender-based violence in rural areas. In Garissa and other counties, we have developed child protection and GBV referral pathways but still need strengthening, especially in very rural areas.”

“We work with community leaders in rural areas to provide a protective environment for children by raising awareness and ensuring they are protected from violence, child marriage, and abuse,” Ahmed says.

“A key focus area to prevent this is ensuring children stay in school, as schools provide a protective environment for children.” 

She says the school is a platform for addressing broader protection needs, especially during emergencies. “Even if children are out of school, they’re still part of the game; we can still reach them,” she says.

“We need to convince the parents, chiefs, and elders that for this area to develop, children need to stay in school at any cost.”

“We also partner with the children’s department and grassroots organisations such as Save the Children and Action Aid to ensure the referral pathway is smoother to curtail the community’s way of resolving GBV cases.

Same organisations partner to train, empower and support women such as Sahara who weren’t lucky to escape the razor and early marriages. 

“I sew clothes and sell them to support my children,” says Sahara, eyes beaming with a hint of pride.

Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week