What you need to know:
- Kenya is a signatory to many international and regional laws meant to protect women and girls from abuse and exploitation.
- However, it appears the commitment for these global laws ends at the same forums where they are signed, even before the ink dries.
Violence against women and girls is the shadow pandemic that is threatening the safety and future of our girls. The crisis of teenage pregnancies has inspired a national outcry that is competing with the dragon of Covid-19 with its social, economic and political ramifications.
The big question is – how did we get here and when did the rain start beating us?
Kenya is a signatory to many international and regional laws meant to protect women and girls from abuse and exploitation.
However, it appears the commitment for these global laws ends at the same forums where they are signed, even before the ink dries.
The current problem of sexual violence and exploitation of girls can only be understood in the context of our child protection system.
Traditionally, there has been poor resourcing for the Department of Children Services, so much so that children officers do not have vehicles, adequate personnel and other resources.
Jurisdictions for our children officers are unusually large – one children officer is expected to serve a huge area singlehandedly. When officers go for periodic training and meetings, their offices remain closed for long periods.
This limits access to these offices. Clearly, the office of the children officer needs to be merged with that of the social officer to strengthen the muscle for child protection.
When the public calls children officers to respond to child violations, the officers have to queue for hours at police stations to seek assistance for vehicles and security officers – further burdening the ever-crowded stations.
After rescue, officers have nowhere to shelter abused children to facilitate their safety, treatment and secure their court participation.
It is, therefore, difficult to get convictions. The few child protection units are ill-equipped and cannot provide long stay as court processes drag on.
The idea of voluntary children’s officers was ‘innovative’ and well-intended, but they are poorly resourced. The fact is that the government has invested very little in child protection.
Communities need to be educated on how to protect children. This role can be filled by the robust civil society groups that work in child protection.
Department of Children Services can work hand in hand with civil society organisations to ensure both government and donor resources are prioritised to meet urgent emerging needs in the children sector.
Sexual grooming of girls and young women has been happening for far too long under our noses and this can be disrupted by re-grooming with knowledge, values and attitudes vital for their personal growth and development.
Sex pests who befriend our girls are lurking everywhere, not to mention retrogressive cultural practices that the Children’s Department cannot fight effectively.
We, therefore, have enough in our basket of push factors that relegate our girls to FGM, early child marriage, child labour, commercial sexual exploitation and child trafficking, to mention a few.
Ms Murogo is the founder and executive director, Centre for Domestic Training and Development. firstname.lastname@example.org.