Violence against children leaves physical and emotional scars in Korogocho
Encouraging children and adults to speak up about violence and seek support.
Seven-year-old Kijana (not his real name) was playing hide and seek in the winding streets of Korogocho, one of Nairobi’s sprawling informal settlements, when two older boys called him away. “They removed my pants and started touching my private parts,” says the boy, looking down. “Then they beat me up.”
Kijana, who lives in the slum, home to as many as 200,000 people pressed into 1.5 square kilometres, says he went home and told his mother what happened before she took him to the hospital. While the pain he felt going to the toilet eventually subsided, the emotional scars left by the experience show no signs of abating.
Tragically, what happened to Kijana is not an isolated incident for many Kenyan children, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. According to a new 2019 survey released by Government of Kenya’s Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, around one in two young adults in Kenya experienced violence as a child.
The 2019 Violence Against Children Survey found that among those who participated in the survey, 46 percent of 18 to 24-year-old young women faced at least one type of violence – physical, emotional or sexual – during their childhood, as well as 52 percent of young men in the same age group.
Kijana’s case is one of over 100 high risk cases that Terre des Hommes is responding to, with support from UNICEF, by offering medical treatment, psychosocial and legal support, combined with cash transfers to cushion their families from the effects of COVID-19.
Eugenia Olliaro, a child protection officer with UNICEF Kenya, says that during coronavirus-related school closures the number of cases of violence against children, including sexual abuse and gender-based violence, increased dramatically. “These cases represent a third of all reported crimes since the onset of COVID-19 in Kenya,” she says.
UNICEF is supporting the Government’s emergency response to COVID-19, including in child protection. “We’ve deployed additional counsellors to the national helpline 116 and supported over 300 child protection volunteers across the country,” Eugenia continues. “Together with Terre des Hommes, we’ve supported the training of 130 community mentors in Korogocho. These volunteers and mentors report cases to child protection workers or the police for follow up.”
Together with the Government, UNICEF is also running a major public information campaign “Spot It, Stop It” which aims to raise public awareness of violence against children and how to prevent and report it. The goal is to create a movement at community level, especially in high-risk counties, to protect children from violence, empowering children, their families and neighbours to take action.
As part of the campaign, children and adults are encouraged to speak up about violence, seek support from a trusted adult, children protection officer or the Child Helpline on 116 (toll free), and report cases to the police.
Margaret Mbala is one of the community mentors trained by Terre des Hommes (TDH), with support from UNICEF. She says she joined because she loves her neighbourhood but realized that some people in her community were doing things in ignorance.
“TDH took me in and they took me for training,” says Mbala who works with children and mothers. “They taught me and provided me with information about how to educate others who do not know that they are in the wrong.” She says she started teaching local people not to engage in activity that could harm themselves and others.
Jimiya Kome, a project manager for TDH in Korogocho, says the support from UNICEF helped educate the community mentors about how to prevent and respond violence against children. “The mentors have been able to respond to 307 low risk cases within Korogocho and 149 high risk cases have been referred to TDH for support.”
After he had received medical care, Kijana’s case was reported to the Department of Children’s Services and the police. A community mentor is following up with Kijani and his family. Unfortunately, the perpetrators have disappeared and have not yet been arrested.
By Lucas Odhiambo, UNICEF Kenya, and Simon Crittle