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Violence in childhood is still common in the country

By Mercy Adhiambo | June 16th 2021

As the continent commemorates the Day of the African Child (DAC) today, a huge population of Kenya's children is still plagued with disease, poverty, abuse, and neglect.

Statistics from a study implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection give a grim reality of the level of abuse that children undergo in silence.

According to the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) that was released last year, One in every two people experience abuse in childhood.

“Violence in childhood is all too common in Kenya, with about 50 per cent of children experiencing it in some form,” Centre of Disease Control (CDC) Kenya country director Marc Bulterys said during the release of the report.

Maniza Zaman, UNICEF Representative to Kenya said a child’s first experience of violence is often at home, in their school, or in their community, where they should feel safe and protected.

This revelation sharply contradicts this year’s theme of 30 Years After Adoption of the Charter: Accelerate Implementation of Agenda 2040 for Africa Fit for Children”. The theme is meant to evaluate efforts that African countries have taken to restore the dignity of the African child.  

Solid aspirations

The Agenda sets out ten solid aspirations to be achieved by the year 2040. They include: having every child’s birth and other vital statistics registered, protecting children against violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse, freeing children from the impact of armed conflicts and other disasters or emergencies, giving them quality education and making their views matter.

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) leading the commemoration of the DAC since 2002 emphasised the importance of child participation in issues affecting them.

“The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child provides for child participation where the views of children matter and must be heard and to ensure that their views are meaningfully channelled and taken into account,” said a report released by ACERWC.

Different stakeholders noted that there are no systems in place that would allow for children to express their needs and desires.

“Children are treated as subordinates who are punished when they voice their feelings. They are not even allowed to cry and express their emotions in most families. They are repressed and some of them are bearing big emotional burdens with nobody to help them,” said Gladys Ng’ang’a, a child counsellor who is urging parents to allow children to share their feelings, triumphs, and losses.

“Parents should make deliberate efforts to ask their children how their day was. They should treat children as individuals with fears, ambitions, emotions, and human feelings. If adults are allowed to be angry and to have a bad day, why aren’t children allowed the same?” she said.

 The CEO of the National Council for Children Services (NCCS) Abdinoor Sheik said there are shortfalls that they are addressing in their attempt to promote children’s rights The area of priority that they will embark on this year is to have a database where all issues affecting children are recorded.

“We lack a comprehensive space where all the information and data on Kenya’s children can be found,” he said, noting that it is through having such a platform that they will be able to implement some of the programmes effectively.

On having child participation on national issues, Abdinoor said budget constraints have led to the halting of the Kenya Children Assembly that used to provide a safe space for children to share their feelings and needs.

Orphans and vulnerable children bear the biggest burden of child abuse. Cases of foreigners coming in as volunteers and sexually abusing children in homes exposed children's poor monitoring and regulation in a care facility.

The government is now coming up with a care reform strategy that will see a huge reduction of children's homes and most of them will be closed.

Already, a majority of care facilities were told to reduce the number of children in their custody to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Abdinoor said out of 49,900 children in homes, close to 20,000 were released to the community, and the exercise is meant to continue as the government now looks into community integration of children through alternative family care such as fostering and adoption.

“We are hopeful that this will reduce the cases of abuse that come from the institutionalisation of children,” he says.

Despite the day of the African child being marked yearly, with states giving lofty promises on the efforts they are making to make life comfortable for children, horror stories of murdered children being found abandoned in thickets, street children sleeping in the cold, defilement, and child trafficking litter media pages; an indication that a lot needs to be done to protect children.

Fridah Oluoch, a teacher, says most children who perform poorly in school have deeper emotional issues stemming from the abuse they face at home.

She says most schools do not have proper structures that allow for counselling children, as the curriculum is mostly academic and the social aspects of a child’s wellbeing is not catered for.

The easy access to the internet by children is a big risk in exposing them to sexual predators online.

This year's event will be marked virtually. 

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