Sexual abuse, alcohol and bhang are high on the list of things parents need worry about at the start of the longest holiday in the public school calendar.
Sex pests, the proliferation of outlets selling alcohol and ease at accessing hard drugs provide a backdrop to what might be a problematic season for households.
Hundreds of children who reported back to school at the beginning of this year’s Third Term reported sexual abuse. More than 70 per cent reported that the abuse came from a trusted man, often being the minor’s father, uncle, close relative or neighbour. Teachers and pastors have also been implicated in rape and defilement cases.
Data collated by the Sunday Standard team shows that the numbers might be worse when schools open next year, as the longest holidays pose the greatest danger to the minors.
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Rape, pregnancies, abortions, unprotected sex, alcohol and drug abuse among school-going teens form the array of issues that parents and caregivers will be forced to confront and deal with during the holiday period.
To date, data sampled countrywide indicate that there have been at least 600 defilement cases filed in courts. This translates to at least two defilement cases reported every day. The number could be much worse since data from many courtrooms across the country had not been collated by the time we went to press.
A representative sample shows that 105 defilement cases have been recorded at the Kakamega Law Courts since the beginning of the year. The Malindi Law Courts have recorded 300 cases, Nairobi’s Milimani Court has had 10 cases while Maua and Limuru have recorded 95 and 52 cases, respectively.
Kisumu High Court has 36 recorded cases between January and August. However, in August alone 247 defilement cases were reported at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.
Most of the victims in these cases are aged between 13 and 17.
And there are fears that the numbers could be higher since most of the cases are not reported.
For instance, in 26 pregnancies among minors referred to one counselling organisation this year, six were as a result of defilement. One of these was from an uncle, two from pastors and two from unknown men because the minors were drugged prior to the act.
The other 20 were as a result of ‘relationships’ mostly with boyfriends in high schools and a few adults.
Most of these cases go unreported because the parents and the persons responsible get to “settle” the cases as families.
Those that were reported experienced hurdles due to what the parents said was “compromising the court processes” by the perpetrators.
Data from the National Council for Population and Development shows that about one in every five school children gets pregnant by age 20. The data further shows that about 378,397 adolescent girls presented with pregnancy in health facilities across the 47 counties between July 2016 and June 2017.
“Children as young as six years old are engaging in unprotected sex,” says Sarah Kithinji, a counsellor based in Nairobi.
She says many schoolchildren engage in sex and have over the years preferred the morning after pill to condoms as a way of keeping pregnancies at bay.
“A number of children who have been presented to us by parents and learning institutions have been diagnosed with STIs,” she says. “One boy had by the time we engaged in counseling slept with over 50 girls and was under medication because he contracted syphilis.”
Apart from the risk of disease, the unprotected sex also presents other challenges, the biggest of them being unsafe abortions.
A 17-year-old girl we spoke to said she has already procured two abortions since she joined high school.
“The last one was paid for by my boyfriend while the first one was paid for by my parents,” she says.
Most of these cases of rape however go unreported, with the minors we spoke to saying they would rather keep silent than talk about their ordeal. Many only speak out when they contract a disease, get pregnant or after a botched abortion.
Most of them said they could not bear the shame of being known by the community as “rape survivors” because they are often victim shamed by being accused of bringing the violation to themselves through ‘their dressing’, not screaming loud enough during the abuse, walking alone at night and attending house parties.
Another parent we spoke to who procured an abortion for her 16-year-old daughter said she did it “so that my daughter does not suffer shame”.
This, professionals argue, is a symptom of another bigger problem.
“Parents are dealing with the symptoms instead of dealing with the problems,” says Alice Noo, a counselling psychologist.
“We have had instances where parents have put their daughters on long-term family planning as a ‘fail safe’ measure to pregnancy.”
She says parents do not talk to their children about sexuality and instead let them learn about sex from third parties who are mostly adults in position of trust who want to lure children into the act, age-mates already engaging in sex or peers of the opposite sex.
Ms Kithinji, who is also the Vice Chair of the National Parents Association, says for many boys and girls, their first sexual experience is within the family.
Fathers, relatives, siblings and workers, she says, are almost always responsible for first sexual encounters.
Although the majority of those at fault are men, and almost all the victims are minors, the reverse can also happen.
A counsellor we spoke to who practices in Eastern Kenya narrated to us how one of her clients learnt she had been impregnated by her son.
“The son, who is about to sit his national examinations, used to spike his mother’s tea with something before assaulting his passed out parent,” the counsellor said.
In some instances, cases of defilement by family members are hardly reported as families and perpetrators agree to settlement outside the justice system. In one such case in Mandera, the family and the perpetrator reached a Sh150,000 agreement. The girl was defiled by her teacher.
All these, professionals say, are dangers that parents should be on the lookout for. Peer pressure, drugs and substance abuse and curiosity are just some of the factors that may lead your teenager into a long, unwinding road that might be difficult to move on.
“Don’t just release your child to attend a house party. Closely monitor the sleepovers because these children are not as innocent as you’d want to believe,” Noo says.
A June 2019 survey by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis and the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse found that pupils were most likely to use drugs during school holidays, on their way home from school, during weekends and during inter-school competitions.
[Additional reporting by Nehemiah Okwembah and Anne Atieno]