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Sexual violence afflicts the lives of children at a school in central Kenya

© UNICEF/2007/Chinyama
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa Zola visits a primary school in Kiambu, Kenya, where students have been the targets of sexual violence.

By Victor Chinyama and Julie Mwabe

NAIROBI, Kenya, 13 March 2007 – UNICEF’s recently appointed Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa, the hip-hop star Zola, thought he had seen it all. Born as Bonginkonsi Dlamini in Zola, a crime-ridden neighbourhood in Soweto, South Africa, he grew up surrounded by hunger, poverty, violence and guns.

But when, last week, he set foot on Kenyan soil on his first trip as a regional ambassador, little of what he had seen and experienced as a child could have prepared him. In Kiambu, a coffee-growing district in central Kenya, Zola was reduced to tears by gut-wrenching tales of rape and betrayal narrated by children as young as six at a local primary school.

“No one cares for us,” the children sang. “We are raped, sodomized and destroyed by people who should be protecting us. We don’t know what the future holds for us. Only God knows.”

Schoolchildren traumatized

Two years ago, nine-year-old Shiku (not her real name) was brutally raped and murdered on her way home from the Kiambu school. “Her brother came home from school and she was not with him,” recalled her mother, “I thought that she may have been delayed in school playing with her friends, as she was a very playful girl. I waited and waited – but she never came home that day.”

Search parties later found Shiku’s body on a coffee plantation near the school. Two suspects were arrested and taken to court but were later released for ‘lack of evidence’; one was subsequently lynched after he was linked to another child rape in the area. Feeling betrayed by the system, Anne prays that one day divine intervention will bring the culprits to justice.

Sadly, violence continues to visit the lives of children at the school Shiku attended. Last year, eight girls and four boys were reportedly raped on their way home from the school. The assaults have left the pupils traumatized and wary of walking home alone. School authorities say the coffee plantations are a hideout for criminals, and they are encouraging pupils to travel in groups.

© UNICEF/2007/Chinyama
Pupils at a primary school in the Kenyan district of Kiambu are preyed upon by criminals who use trees and coffee plantations as hideouts.

Stopping the cycle of abuse

Zola blames society for letting these children down. “A society that fails to protect its most vulnerable is in danger of losing its soul,” he said. “Violence has a tendency to perpetuate itself in ever more devastating cycles. It can destroy a nation if left unchecked.”

Stopping the cycle begins with looking at the way children are brought up and socialized into society, Zola added.

“Male violence is a learned behaviour,” he said. “When we teach boys to grow up thinking they are superior to girls, and we abuse and mistreat their mothers, we are already sowing the seeds of violence. Today’s abused boys are tomorrow’s male abusers.”

Action against sexual violence

During a ‘Stop Rape Now’ International Women’s Day event in Nairobi – organized last week by 10 UN agencies that have partnered to end sexual violence – participants said the UN and its partners must speak out with one voice against impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence.

Njoki Ndung’u, a prominent Kenyan Member of Parliament who championed the country’s Sexual Offenses Bill until it was passed into law, argued that the only way to end sexual violence is to legislate against it and provide for stiffer punishments.

Dennis McNamara, the Special Adviser on Internal Displacement to the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator, said horror stories of sexual abuse in war need to be told over and over. Sexual violence, he stated, “is a shame of war. It is also the shame of us who have been aware of these atrocities but have done nothing to combat them. Familiarity is no excuse for inaction.”

Betty Murungi, the Director of the Urgent Action Fund for Africa, a non-governmental organization dedicated to helping women participate in transitional justice processes after conflict, called for an end to the marginalization of sexual crimes. “Rape is always the first offense to be struck out of an indictment,” she said, “in order to get a suspect to plead guilty to other crimes against humanity.”



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