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Mobile app tracks abused children, serves justice

By Lucy Murunga | March 18th 2015 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

School girls drop out of school because of pregnancy. [photo: Lucy Murunga/world vision]

Kenya: In November 2014, Rita's education was cut short and her dream of becoming a teacher dashed due to pregnancy. Rita, 14, a hardworking Standard Seven pupil was forced to drop out of school. Her mother Rebecca, says peers ridiculed her out of school after it was discovered she was pregnant.

When Rebecca saw a change in her daughter's body, she became concerned. "I decided to take her for a pregnancy test and that's when my fears were confirmed," the mother of six pauses. "My daughter was two months pregnant."

A devastated Rebecca then reported the matter to the school head teacher who forwarded the case to Margaret Matasa, a volunteer children's officer, in charge of the area.

"Cases of early pregnancies among primary school-going girls are widespread in the location," says Matasa, who has been a children's volunteer in the area since 2012. "Monthly, at least five to six cases are reported. The numbers could be higher because there are those cases that go unreported," notes Matasa.

She says cultural practices such as village dances and funerals are largely to blame for the rising teenage pregnancies. This is because such festivities attract a large crowd of unsupervised children and they are likely to engage in risky behaviour.

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Margaret also blames the culture of tolerance that seems to 'normalise' issues of early pregnancy and child marriage.

The Kenya Country Situation Analysis of 2009 found that four in ten Kenyan girls have sex before the age of 19 and many as early as 12. Kilifi County has one of the highest incidences of child pregnancy and marriage; the two leading causes of school dropouts in the county.

Research conducted by Plan International in 2012 indicates that child marriages occasioned by early pregnancy stand at 47.4 per cent.

Unfortunately for girls, due to early pregnancy they are sent away from school and for many, that marks the end of their education. Evidence shows that such girls are more likely to marry early and have more children. In just under three months, Rita will be a child mother.

Meanwhile her peers are in school pursuing their dreams and so is the boy who is accused of impregnating her. In fact, he attained remarkable grades in last year's KCPE exams and has secured a place at a national secondary school.

For Rita's mother, this state of affairs is extremely painful to bear. "It hurts me very much to see my daughter stay at home and pregnant at a tender age when she should be in school getting an education like the rest of her age mates," Rebecca says.

 

Experts say most cases go unreported because of fear of stigma, limited access to reporting mechanisms and a lack of understanding.

To mitigate this, in 2014, Plan International in partnership with the Kilifi County Director of Children's Services launched a mobile application to effectively track abused children.

The application dubbed 'VuruguMapper' helps map out cases of abuse against children in the communities.

With the help of the application, Rita's case has been tracked since it was first reported in November. Currently, the matter is in court.

Unlike in the past when cases took several days to get to the authorities, through the application, the authorities know about cases instantly.

Even though the application is still being piloted in the two sub-counties of Ganze and Kilifi, Maurice Tsuma, Kilifi County director of Children's Services is confident the application will be rolled out to the rest of the country.

"The department has so far tracked over 250 cases of child abuse including those from the remotest of places where locals are unable to access authorities," he says.

Rita's mother is hopeful that justice will be served. "This will not bring back my daughter's innocence but at least it will serve as a lesson to other would-be offenders not to commit offences against children."

The application is installed on mobile phones held by volunteer children's officers (VCOs). There is a simple form to fill in with the details of the cases of abuse, such as the bio data of the abused children. This is only accessed by authorised persons. When a user gets the information, they fill out the form and send it to the Children's Department database, where it is received as an SMS notification for verification.

Upon verification, SMS notifications with the summary of the reported case are sent to the county police, hospital and later judiciary for necessary action. This continues until the case is closed.


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