20 Aug, 2021

Beacon Of Hope For Abused Child Domestic Workers

Doris (not her real name) was left helpless when her parents passed away in 2015. So, after she sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination, there was no money to take her to secondary school. She was only 13 years old. A relative then offered to help her get a job as a domestic worker in Nairobi in order to make ends meet. She landed one in Umoja estate. Her bosses were a police couple and the starting salary was Sh8,000. “I was so happy since I would now earn my own money to take care of myself and my siblings. My target was to work for several years and save money to pay for my secondary education,” Doris tells Nation Africa. She had no idea of the nightmare that lay ahead.

One weekend, the woman of the house traveled upcountry with her only child, leaving her in the house with the husband who was working the day shift. When he returned from work in the evening, the man of the house was in the company of three colleagues. They started drinking alcohol. She did not find this unusual as it was the norm on weekends. After she was done with her chores, she went to bed. Her sleep was interrupted when the man of the house woke her up at around 11 pm to give them extra glasses. She obliged. But as she passed by him to go pick the glasses, he grabbed her and wrestled her to the ground. He went on to defile her.

After he was done, she recounts, his three colleagues took turns defiling her as well, leaving her unconscious. “I regained consciousness at about 3 am. I was bleeding heavily and unable to walk. When I called his wife to inform her what had transpired, she told me that her husband had already called her saying that I was seducing him,” she says. Doris sought medical attention five days after the assault. She did not disclose what had transpired to the doctors as she feared for her life after being sternly warned to remain silent. More bad news awaited her. After three months, she realised she was pregnant. Peris (not her real name) underwent a similar ordeal in 2020, when only aged 16. She was working as a house help in Ngara when she decided to go visit her sister in Rongai one Saturday, during her off day. After boarding a motorbike in Rongai, she did not reach her destination in one piece – the boda boda operator turned against her and defiled her.

“When we reached a forested area, he said he was pressed and needed to go for a short call. On coming back, he blindfolded me from behind using a piece of cloth and tied my hands before repeatedly raping me,” she says. Two months later, she missed her periods. A clinic visit confirmed her worst fears; she was pregnant. She twice attempted suicide but survived. To date, the two survivors have never got justice. These two cases of sexual violence are a tip of the iceberg; many other survivors at Talia Agler Girls Shelter have harrowing tales to tell. The shelter has become a beacon of hope for child domestic workers who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Apart from providing accommodation for the survivors, it also offers them technical courses to help them pick up the pieces and become self-reliant. Among the courses offered include housekeeping, cosmetology, food production, fashion and design and child care, among others. Upon completion of the courses, the girls are linked to potential employers. Doris has already completed a certificate in cosmetology and is currently working at a beauty parlour. On a good day, she makes between Sh400 and Sh600. Peris is pursuing a certificate in hospitality. She is optimistic that she will get a job once she is through. Currently, the rescue centre has 11 child domestic workers who are survivors of sexual violence undertaking various courses. To enable them concentrate on their studies, the centre has enlisted the services of a house mother who takes care of their children.

Edith Murogo, the founder of the rescue shelter, says she saw a gap and decided to act. She says she got concerned after people started alerting her of abused child domestic workers. “We started picking them up, offering them counselling and doing family tracing before we return them to school,” she says. The survivors, she reveals, undergo rehabilitation under the Four Rs model – reach, rescue, rehabilitation and re-integration. “We have been doing this since 2005 and we have so far rescued more than 200 girls,” she says. Despite the initiative’s success, challenges abound, including lack of adequate resources to help all the survivors who need assistance. Ms Murogo adds that failure by the survivors to access justice is another major challenge, which mostly results from poor investigations and handling of evidence. Her joy, she says, is to see the girls who have undergone the triple tragedy of sexual violence, early motherhood and child labour get a new beginning.

Lydia Njore, who is in charge of the training programme, says they first offer guidance and counselling to the girls to boost their self-esteem. She says many come to the centre while very traumatised. “Through the guidance and counselling, we help them accept the situation they are going through. We offer a shoulder to lean on,” says Ms Njore. She adds that they also take the survivors through formation classes where they are trained on emotional intelligence, communication skills and language classes. In Kenya, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that 8.5 per cent of children (1.3 million) children are engaged in child labour, with domestic work most rampant in urban towns.

Centre for Domestic Training and Development