Understanding Child Protection and Safeguarding through the Kenya Media Lens
Safeguarding is the action that is taken to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, safeguarding includes: "protecting children from abuse and maltreatment; preventing harm to children’s health or development; ensuring children grow up with the provision of safe and effective care; and taking action to enable all children and young people to have the best outcomes. Child protection is part of the safeguarding process. It focuses on protecting individual children identified as suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. This includes child protection procedures which detail how to respond to concerns about a child."
Child abuse is a major global challenge that has gained increasing media and public attention in recent years. Child abuse is a heartbreaking reality for many children living in poverty, and it comes in many forms, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and may involve neglect or deprivation. Besides possible death, physical injury, and disability, violence can lead to stress that impairs brain development and damages the nervous and immune systems. This, in turn, is associated with delayed cognitive development, poor school performance and dropout, mental health problems, suicide attempts, increased health-risk behaviors, re-victimization, and the perpetration of violence. The perpetrators who commit violence against children do not fit any single profile. The perpetrators could be family members, intimate partners, teachers, neighbors, strangers, and other children.
In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that up to 1 billion minors between the ages of 2 and 17 years of age have endured either physical, emotional, or sexual violence. Sexual abuse (from groping to rape), according to some UNICEF estimates from 2014, affected over 120 million children, representing the highest number of victims. In 2017, the same UN organization reported that in 38 low- and middle-income countries, almost 17 million adult women admitted having a forced sexual relationship during their childhood.
In some African countries, the sexual abuse of minors is part of the wider context of violence linked to conflict that plagues the continent and makes it difficult to quantify. The phenomenon is also closely connected with the practice of early marriage, a widely accepted tradition in various African nations. Violence against children is a multifaceted problem with causes at the individual, close relationship, community, and societal levels. It has lifelong impacts on a child’s health and well-being, as well as on their families, communities, and nations. Childline Kenya reported 52 cases of child abuse in the capital city of Nairobi being the highest followed by Kiambu and Bungoma with 23 and 19 respectively. Other cases rampant in the three counties are abduction, early and forced marriage, and physical assault. The report also indicates 2,835 cases were reported in 2017 and 2018 with perpetrators aged between 10 and 35 years.
Kenya has laws and policies in place that are generally protective; however, implementation is poor and insensitive to the needs of survivors. For instance, the Victim Protection Act, No. 17 of 2014 stipulates that survivors of sexual violence have a right to separate waiting spaces and holding facilities before court appearances, as well as a right to witness protection. The Children Act also provides for the establishment of children’s courts to preside over cases involving minors. In addition, children who have experienced sexual abuse are entitled to give evidence under a protective cover or through an intermediary as well as to proceedings taking place outside an open court, and to prohibition of publication of personal identifiers. Most courts in Kenya do not have children’s courts and cases involving children take place either in adult courts or in magistrates’ chambers, which are often tiny. There are no separate waiting areas for children and adolescents who have experienced sexual abuse. A recent report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicated that the sluggish justice system is partly to blame for the high number of cases of violence against children despite tough laws that have been enacted to protect children.
Examining global patterns of violence as well as attitudes and social norms sheds light on an issue that has remained largely undocumented. Given the recent media attention at global and local levels, violence against children and its many ramifications have become more visible, thus bringing about an understanding of its magnitude and nature whilst offering clues to its prevention. In Kenya, the media has played a key role in the acceptance of child abuse as a major social problem. It went from being a largely unacknowledged issue, to receiving wide coverage by media houses, activists, and professional groups. The media – through a series of television documentaries and investigative reporting – has played a major role in raising public awareness of child abuse, and in putting pressure on the government to take action on the issue.
Particularly significant was the NTV’s televised documentaries:- Sins of Saviours - an expose on how the Child Welfare Society of Kenya has been abusing the rights of vulnerable children under its care; Cot to Court – exposing on-going battles for the custody of children who are taken away from their biological parents and are placed in the care of guardians; and Preying Missionaries – where an American couple Gregory Hayes Dow and his wife Mary Rose, are accused of abusing 83 children at a Bomet orphanage in rift valley for nearly a decade. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against children, which should, naturally, provoke our deepest shock and outrage. We must not tolerate and consider these crimes against children normal. All children have the right to protection from violence, regardless of the nature or severity of the act. Furthermore, all forms of violence can cause harm to children, reduce their sense of self-worth, affront their dignity, and hinder their development.
Headlines in recent times have begun to highlight child abuse. For example, “Kenya's children under siege as cases of sexual abuse soar,” which reports on the evil of the sexual abuse of Kenya’s children, specifically defilement of girls that has become a huge monster in the country, a reality that has to be confronted and fought vigorously. Then there’s “Alarm at growing child abuse cases,” a report that revealed shocking details on child sexual abuse in the country, with Nairobi County leading. The revelation came amid debate on the increase in teenage pregnancies. The report by the International Child Protection Conference 2018 indicated that, despite an 11-year-old law protecting children, they are still being sexually abused. Yet another example can be found in “Kenyan Children still left behind as world celebrates day of African Child,” which highlights how in the three decades since the inception of the international Day of African Children, the African child is still burdened by the yoke of disease, abuse, orphanhood, and hopelessness. Still, the African child is unrelenting in pursuit for light in a place of darkness, hope in place of hopelessness, and well-being in place of poverty. In Kenya, the ills of child labor, trafficking, and abuse are still rampant. The standard media explored factors that hold Kenyan children back. This is just the beginning of a groundbreaking social movement to create judiciary changes to protect Kenyan children better.
Author: Laurah Kamau
Kenya's children under siege as cases of sexual abuse soar, Daily Nation, June 10, 2019
Alarm at growing child abuse cases, Daily Nation, November 13, 2018
Kenyan Children still left behind as world celebrates day of African Child, Standard Team, June 16, 2018