Kenya, 20 November 2013: In Kenya, a child helpline proves a lifeline for a young victim of rape, and her family
By Kun Li
As the world marks Universal Children’s Day, 20 November, the anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is urging that a much stronger light be shone on the millions of children in every country and at every level of society who are victims of violence and abuse that continue to go unnoticed and under-reported.
A helpline in Kenya proves a lifeline for a girl who is raped by a teacher – and a family who wants to make sure no other child is ever attacked by this man.
Kenya, 20 November 2013 – This year, a four-year legal battle ended. The man who had raped Christine* when she was 14 years old – a man who had been a teacher at her school – was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
A child helpline had proven to be of critical support for a child and her family – and for justice.
A child attacked, a family shunned
The teacher had raped Christine after having created a ruse to lure her into an empty room. Christine told her mother what had happened. The girl was bleeding. With the help of neighbours, Christine’s mother took her to the hospital and reported the rape to the local police.
News spread. Christine was shunned by the other children. She had to move to a different school, and she required counselling to help her cope with the trauma.
Her family was pressured by other members of the community for making accusations against a trusted and authoritative figure. The school management criticized them for involving the authorities instead of dealing with the issue privately. “We had difficulty when my child was abused,” recalls Christine’s father. “We had difficulty with her schooling.”
Then, Childline Kenya heard about Christine’s case and sent counsellors to her aid.
A helpline for children
Childline Kenya operates a national child helpline. The helpline is a children’s emergency toll-free number available 24 hours/7 days for children to report abuse or other issues of concern. Calls are free on mobile, wireless and landline telephones.
Childline Kenya fields calls on a wide range of cases – sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect. The helpline is attached to a referral network of supporting organizations that provide psychosocial support to children who call and are in need of care and protection.
According to Rhoda Mwikya, Chief Children’s Officer, Department of Children’s Services, Government of Kenya, the helpline operates “to support the families, to support the survivors and give them information on what they need to do in case of abuse.
“We direct them where they need to go, the services that area available to them.”
To ensure children are directed to the proper support networks, Childline Kenya employs volunteer counsellors with backgrounds in counselling, psychology and social work. Counsellors undergo intensive training on child telephone counselling, communicating with children, child rights and related topics. They work in shifts to ensure around-the-clock support for children.
A helpline is a lifeline
Christine’s father describes the invaluable assistance that Childline Kenya provided, in Christine’s case. They supported Christine – and supported the family as it entered the protracted legal battle.
Beyond providing a hurt child with the care and support she needed, Childline Kenya assisted in practical matters. When Christine was shunned and needed to leave school, “[the] child helpline helped us to get a school for my daughter,” says her father.
Additionally, the family faced tremendous challenges when they tried to navigate the legal system. According to Christine’s father, the perpetrator was always a step ahead of them when they tried to obtain assistance.
“[Childline Kenya] provided us with legal support, and I can’t fail to mention that, when we were financially down, they always provided us with the fare so that we could attend the court sessions,” he says.
“I want to commend Childline for the support they gave us. If it had not been for them, we wouldn’t have made it through.”
Plans for the future
Childline is there for children like Christine, and for a community that does not tolerate violence and needs to know how to act. Ms. Mwikya says that Childline “has really made our public aware of what to do in child protection”.
Today, Christine is 18 and in secondary school. She plans to attend university. “We don’t have much,” says her father, “but we want to struggle to ensure that our daughter gets a proper education and that she will be able to stand on her own in the future.”
Christine is optimistic and says that what she had been through has inspired her to do something for other girls affected by sexual violence. “In the future, I want to become a fighter,” she says, “a fighter for children’s rights like the people who helped me.”
*Name has been changed.
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