- "Two-year-old girl gang raped and strangled in Kenya's Kiambu District." No. This is not a script to a violent thriller movie but the chilling headline that awakened Kenyans in the dailies in mid March this year. Further reports of grotesque child abuse incidents show that the problem is widespread.
As pictures were flashed of the sweet innocent little girl whose life had been punctuated so brutally, the collective outrage of Kenyans was awakened. Was man or beast responsible for this cruel action? What had gone wrong with society?
Before Kenyans could recover from this atrocity, another grisly story hit the headlines. Yet another two-year-old had been raped by a 19- year old man and was fighting for her life in a City hospital. Her fragile reproductive organs had been ravaged and it would require divine intervention to restore them. Still this brave little girl smiled for the cameras and all the women leaders who were gathered in her room.
As the leaders wept for this little girl, they vowed to do all within their means to fight this evil cancer eating away at the girl child in the country.
Sadly though, such headlines are the order of the day in Kenya today. Stories of innocent girls becoming victims of sexual abuse at the hands of family members, strangers and criminals continue to dominate the local news scene.
As this disturbing trend continues in the country, mothers are living in fear of the safety of their daughters and many a mother says a silent prayer of thanksgiving every time their daughter returns home safely from school.
Mama Atieno is one such mother. Her nine- year old daughter has to travel a long distance from their home to attend school. Yet another mother who lives in a slum dwelling, which she shares with her husband, her young daughter and her husband's male relatives, is equally fearful! She does not entirely trust her male in-laws and tries to always look out for her daughter. This is hard as she works in a factory away from home and must leave her daughter unattended!
Even more disturbing are the increases in incidences of child defilement visited upon little girls by their own fathers or close relatives who are their caregivers. A 32-year-old man was recently jailed for 10 years for having defiled his 7-year-old daughter.
Though this trend is highest among the low-income earners, even the affluent mothers are now living in perpetual fear.
Two mothers who had taken their daughters for a holiday at the Maasai Mara Game reserve ensured that they never let their girls out of their sight.
When asked why they were so vigilant, one of them simply retorted that the girl child was "an endangered species!"
The Kenyan government has recognised the seriousness of such offences and has introduced legislation such as the Criminal Law amendment Act 2003 which has laid out stiffer penalties to be meted out for sexual offences. Those in judiciary have also continued to give maximum sentences for sexual offenders and defilers.
Despite these positive efforts, sometimes justice is not always served.
The legal system requires that the prosecution fully discharge its burden of proof in showing the guilt of accused persons. Owing to shoddy investigations carried out by the police who handle prosecutions in the country, many a sex offender walks away free. As Peter Mwaura, a former editor in chief of the 'Daily Nation' and Deputy Director of the UN Information Centre puts it; rape cases are easily lost due to poor probe.
Organisations like FIDA-Kenya, an NGO that seeks to enhance the status and dignity of women by lobbying for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices, have been instrumental in lobbying for legislation such as the Criminal Amendment Act of 2003, outlining harsher sentences for defilers and rapists. Christine Muga, a council member with this organisation says that despite this, sexual offences continue to increase.
She personally believes that instruments of social change other than legislation are needed to educate society to view women and girl children as more than just child bearers, marriage material or sexual objects.
There is need to tackle the attitudes, perceptions and harmful practices that lead to such offences being committed, she adds.
Ms Muga also raises the recent worrying trend of sexual offenders using condoms and thus destroying vital evidence that can be used to prove the crimes of rape.
She further reiterates that unless the root causes of these sexual crimes are addressed and concerted efforts made to affect the mentality of many men in society, then Kenyans shall continue to mourn our girl children.
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