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Pain of incest victims as families turn a blind eye to their indignity

By Nathan Ochunge | June 5th 2021
These two sisters were frequently defiled by their father. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

At the age of 17, Charity (not her real name) fears the future.

The Form Three student will have to look for another place to live when she turns 18, barely six months away.

She can no longer live at an orphanage where she has been staying, yet her family will not allow her back home in Buyama village, Matayos, Busia County.

Memories of June 2019 still haunt her. “My stepmother had gone to a funeral night vigil. I came home early and prepared supper then went to my bedroom to study. When my father came at 11pm, I took food to him but he grabbed me and raped me for three hours.”

She recalls him warning her not to tell anyone. After a month, Charity missed her periods. She was pregnant.

Charity, whose mother died in 2005, says the father brought her some medicine to terminate the pregnancy. But fearing for her life, she reported the matter to the guidance and counseling teacher.

That was the beginning of her tribulations.

The teacher reported the incident to a local NGO that took her to an orphanage in Kigumo, Murang’a County, to escape the wrath of villagers, some of whom wanted her dead for “bringing shame to the family”.

“I gave birth last year and was taken to another orphanage in Busia.”

Once she turns 18, Charity will have to leave the orphanage, but where to? “I was sent away from home. If I set foot there I might lose my life,” she says.

Charity’s story indicates a worrying trend in Busia. Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme, an NGO working in the county, has recorded 52 incest cases in the past eight months.

Busia Chief Magistrate Lucy Ambasi says, for the past five months, there have been 70 active defilement cases in court.

These two sisters were frequently defiled by their father. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

“At least 40 per cent of the cases are incest. One in every two cases we receive every day, is on incest,” she adds.

“We can no longer live in denial that fathers are preying on their daughters. When such cases are reported, the victims are cursed, punished and excommunicated from the community.”

Yet prosecuting the cases is not easy. According to Ambasi, many parents are reluctant to report, let alone testify in court. “There is a lot of interference with witnesses. In most instances, the witnesses are moved elsewhere by the families to protect the family ties by shielding perpetrators.”

Some suspects do not show up in court once they are released on bond, causing such cases to collapse.

More girls continue to suffer. Like Charity, 14-year-old Shantel (not her real name) was defiled by her father at the age of nine.

Shantel’s mother left after a fight with her father in 2016. Two days after her mother left, the father called her to the house as she played with other children in Khakati village in Funyula, Busia. He ordered her to go to the bedroom where he defiled her.

“It was very painful and when he set me free, I was bleeding,” she says amid tears.

When she informed her grandmother and aunt, nothing was done. This emboldened her father who went on defiling her until 2020 when she gathered courage and reported him to her class teacher. Police took over the case but her father was never prosecuted. Shantel was rescued and taken to an orphanage.

“My grandmother and aunt cursed me after I reported my father to my teacher,” she says.

Claire*, seven, and Anne*, six, of Butula, suffered the same fate if not worse. Their father started defiling them when they were three and four years after separating with their mother. Luckily, the man is now in jail.

For Georgina of Swololo village in Butula, her son who is 22 years old defiled her sister aged 13 and impregnated her. “People advised me to terminate the pregnancy but I refused. I took her to a safe house in Nairobi where she gave birth to a baby girl.”

Jean Paul Murunga of End Sexual Violence Equality Now, an NGO, says instead of the society condemning the perpetrators, they heap blame on the victims.

Ambasi warns chiefs and their assistants against settling such cases, saying it’s only the Director of Public Prosecutions who can file or terminate such cases.

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