How Covid-19 pandemic fuelled violence against children

CS Ministry of Public Service and Gender, Prof. Margaret Kobia, (2nd left) Deputy Chief of Staff Executive office of the President, Ruth Kagia, (right ) accompanied by youth during the launch of the report at a Nairobi hotel on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. [Samson Wire. Standard].

Violence among adolescents went up during the Covid-19 period with young people experiencing sexual, emotional and physical violence.

These forms of violence are being fueled by the loss of sources of income due to the effects of coronavirus and interpersonal differences among family members.

Two studies show there was higher physical violence among boys while girls were subjected to sexual violence. The first study was undertaken in early June 2020 when schools had closed and there were restrictions on movement.

The second survey was conducted in February 2021 after schools opened and movement restrictions eased. “For all reports of violence, half to three-quarters of respondents said it had increased compared to the pre-Covid-19 period,” says the findings titled ‘Impact of Covid-19 on adolescents in Kenya.’

Respondents noted adolescents who were exposed to domestic violence at home experienced undue stress and anxiety; contributing to further aggressive behaviour towards others. On sexual violence, girls reported the vice has adversely affected them. About 2 per cent reported experiencing sexual violence and that two-thirds of the cases were committed by sexual partners.

“The affected adolescent girls have experienced stress, shame, and trauma after the incidents. These effects have the potential to negatively affect their long-term relationships with the community and in school and can lead to depression,” says the study.

Other perpetrators were adolescent boys, family members, and strangers. Respondents noted that ‘idle’ adolescent boys sexually violated girls especially when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In some parts of the country, girls were either raped when herding livestock, at the marketplace, while walking alone in street alleys at night, at home alone and while undertaking paid work.

“In a few cases, respondents highlighted close family members as perpetrators,” says the study which attempted to understand the impact of Covid-19 on adolescents who even in normal times, adolescence is a turbulent period for young people.

During this period, adolescents go through major physical and psychosocial changes as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

Emotional violence among girls reported in both urban and rural areas. Nairobi however reported more cases involving verbal harassment from ‘idle’ boys on the streets, jeering, intimidation, and ridicule.

“A few adolescents also described parents as meting out emotional violence due to disappointments, especially when girls became pregnant, causing emotional distress,” says the report.

A sample of Nairobi, Kisumu, and Kilifi counties shows that emotional violence was high in Kisumu during the first study of June 2020. About 12 per cent of the respondents reported experiencing emotional violence compared to 9 per cent in Kilifi and 7 per cent in Nairobi.

Interestingly, this form of violence increased significantly in Kisumu even after schools opened and easing of movement restrictions. In Kisumu, 15 per cent experienced emotional violence, Nairobi (8 per cent) while Kilifi had 8 per cent when the second study was carried out in February 2021.

Again there was more physical violence in Kisumu compared to Nairobi and Kilifi. In the lake side city 8 per cent respondents reported experiencing physical violence in June 2020 while Nairobi had 5 per cent and Kilifi recorded 4 per cent.

After schools opened, physical violence experienced in Kisumu was 11 per cent, Nairobi (6 per cent) and Kilifi (5 per cent).

In the three counties, cases of sexual violence were 2 per cent with those in Kisumu increasing to 3 per cent when schools opened. But there was a drop in Nairobi and Kilifi where 1 per cent of respondents experienced sexual violence. In Wajir, police were blamed for encouraging sexual crimes by not taking stern action against perpetrators.