24 November 2017

Child Protection: Is it for Some, Most or All?

04 May 2014

In 2001, The Department of Health and Social Development Vhembe region had T shirts printed with the slogan "Protecting Children is everybody's business". It is generally a fair expectation however, it appears as if protecting children is not everybody's business in some parts of Kenya, especially if that child is female and had "˜only" been raped. A young girl of 16, Liz*, was approached by a group of 6 men aged between 16-20 years. Reports say that she had refused the advances of one of the young men and he in turn went and called upon his friends to "˜punish" her for not returning his affections. The young men are said to have taken turns raping the young lady and when each of them had been satisfied, they threw her down a latrine

As if the act in itself was not humiliating and traumatizing enough, the young men were found, weeks after the incident, and were given a punishment that was deemed suitable for such a horrendous thing, they were to cut grass at the local police office and sent home. The police officers violated Liz*'s rights to have her perpetrators brought to undergo fair judiciary processes. However, with the history of verdicts granted for cases of sexual abuse in the country, there is no guarantee that had they been brought to court, they would have received a guilty verdict or punishment worthy of the act.

To say the Justice system with regards to cases of sexual abuse and even domestic violence in Kenya is flawed in an understatement. According to the Children's Act (Cap. 586, Laws of Kenya) "All children shall be protected from sexual exploitation, prostitution, inducement or coercion to engage in any sexual activity and exposure to pornographic materials" and it further stipulates that children who have been subjected to sexual abuse are deemed as in need of care and protection. In practice however, it seems there are more children like Liz* who are victimised not only by the sexual abuse act itself but also by the "˜punishment" placed upon their perpetrators. In 2011, a group of 159 young women who are survivors of rape and other forms of violence were unhappy with the manner in which their cases were handled and sued the government of Kenya for failing to protect them from their rapists.

The punishment given in Liz's case shows how the society views rape as a non serious case. It perpetuates the belief that men can do or say whatever they want to women and not have to face the consequences. Rape has been viewed as a family issue and only in recent years has been brought under the spotlight in parliament, presumably due to pressure from other countries. In parliament, the matter reached boiling point when they members could not agree on what is rape and what is due punishment resulting in some female members walked out as protest. There is in paper at least, an improvement in the matter as the punishment for raping a child ranges from 10 years and life imprisonment and should HIV/AIDS.

When an outraged community demanded that this was not enough and word got to the media, the police went to the school were these young men attended to arrest them, and the teachers, ever so concerned about the education of the students, requested and were granted permission to allow the men to write their exams first. And of course, they young men have since fled, presumably with the assistance of the teachers. In a Society where teachers are almost always reported in the Media under a negative light, it is commendable that these teachers stood up for their students, however, one has to wonder why they did not find it more urgent that Liz* who was also a student at the school, be protected from her perpetrators. The teachers's request to have the young men's arrest postponed until they complete their exams shows the extent to which that society still views "˜boy child" education as more important than that of a "˜girl child". Liz*'s educational needs were not taken into consideration as it seemed the only concern that the teachers had was the security of the young men's education. As a result of the rape, Liz suffered not only psychological damage, but she is said to no longer be able to control her bowls removal and she needs a wheelchair to get around. Subsequently she is now unable to further her education and is left with very little prospect for a bright future. The teachers, the police officers and the law have failed Liz* and her case is not isolated. NGOs that work in the country report that rape is not seen as a serious offense in Kenya and that perpetrators almost never receive a prison sentence. Punishment ranges from paying the family of the survivor with life stock to cutting the local police station lawn. As a result children and women are afraid to report these incidents and suffer in silence.

Despite the country having a fair and sound Children's Act that is to protect the rights of all children, it still experiences a great number of violence against children, especially young girls. If Liz* has not been raped by the young men, she was still most likely to have been raped by a close family member, maybe even her father, a victim of early marriage, undergo female genital mutilation and/or corporal abuse at school.

Although progress has been made with the introduction of the bill, the country, like many other countries, still has a long way to go before the matter of rape and rape verdicts reaches a satisfactory level. The quest for child protection will not and should not stop until every child, boy and girl is able to walk the streets free from fear of being victimised, and should s/he find themselves in the unfortunate position of being a victim, to at the very least have every other member of society exercise their responsibility in ensuring that such a child is protected from the trauma of seeing their perpetrator walk the streets freely to instil fear in them. In a way, Liz* is fortunate because her story reached the media and steps are being taken to correct the wrong done against her, even if the rate is not satisfactory.... What about the next child, where is her justice and protection?


Phathutshedzo Mukona
Phathutshedzo.Mukona@gauteng.gov.za

Related Topics:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Crime
  • Rape
  • Law
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