Children are no longer safe at home

DSC_0321A boy in Kibera slum, Nairobi waiting to use a public toilet.Picture:George Ngesa

When Ruth Adoyo got married six years ago, she thought she had been saved from miseries that defined her life. The first born child in a family of six, Adoyo always experienced hostility from her

father and the situation forced her to escape from home several times to stay with her grandmother.

 

“My father would use any excuse to beat me up and I always assumed that it was because of his drunkardness,” explains Adoyo. However, she soon realised that he would still beat her even when

he was sober. “One day when I was in class six I delayed from school because I was sharing a book with a classmate. My father did not even ask me where I had been. He just started beating me

until I fainted. All I can remember is that I woke up in a hospital,” Adoyo recalls.

 

She would later discover that the man she called her dad was not her biological father. Although her mother witnessed all this violence, she did not intervene because the man had married her despite having a child with another man and provided for them.

 

Adoyo who now lives in Mukuru Kwa Reuben, sought solace, love and acceptance in all the wrong places and as a result got pregnant. “The man responsible for my pregnancy rejected me and did

not take the baby’s responsibility,” explains Adoyo.

 

“So when I met another man who agreed to marry me with my two years old son, I was so happy.” However, things did not go as smoothly as she had anticipated. The man was affectionate at first

but with time started to be violent. He accused her of aborting their child when she had actually had a miscarriage and violence became the order of the day in their household.

 

“As time went by, he started attacking my son whenever we had a disagreement,” says Adoyo, who is 27 years old. “He would do it secretly when I was not in the house then he started beating him

up in my presence. When I tried talk against it he would beat me up too and threaten to send us out of his house.”

 

Adoyo is reluctant to report the man to the authorities because he provides for them. She fears that she may not be married again with her two children. She once tried to go back to her mother but

that did not help either. Her mother advised her to persevere and stick to her marriage.

 

A new form of violence is emerging where step children are no longer safe with their adopted or step parents. There are many cases which have been reported of children who are abused at home

by their step parents, the latest being that of a child killed by his step father in Kisii County for stealing a neighbour’s fruits.

 

Despite there being laws to protect against child abuse and domestic violence the vice continues unabated. The Children’s Act 2001 makes provision for parental responsibility, fostering, adoption,

custody, maintenance, guardianship, care and protection of children. It also makes provision for the administration of children’s institutions; gives effect to the principles of the Convention of the

Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and other related purposes.

 

The Children’s Act provides for the leadership in co-ordination, supervision and provision of services towards promoting the rights and welfare of all children in Kenya.

 

Christopher Wesonga, a social worker who has been rescuing children from the streets of Nairobi points out that violence at home has led to an increased number of street children.

 

He notes that those who stay at home suffer psychological trauma. According to Wesonga: “It is easy to rescue the ones in the streets and take them to a children’s home but it is hard to rescue the

ones at home because the parents hide the truth and neighbours fear reporting the matter.”

 

A children’s officer based at the Children Services office in Nairobi thinks that it will not be possible to end violence against children without tackling gender based violence generally. He notes that this has been the missing link when coming up with laws to protect children.

 

“When a mother is abused and she lives in a desperate state then she cannot protect her child,” says Wesonga. Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 describes “domestic violence” as violence against that person, or threat of violence or of imminent danger to that person by any other person with whom that person is, or has been, in a domestic relationship.

 

The Act further explains in subsection (2) (d), that a person psychologically abuses a child if that person- (a) Causes or allows the child to see or hear the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of

a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship; or (b) puts the child or allows the child to be put at real risk of seeing or hearing that abuse occurring.

 

Relatives and neighbours are expected to make the application for protection order for the child who is being abused but many of them usually choose to keep quiet until things get out of hand.

Even with the laws in place many issues like causes of GBV must be tackled first. All those who are mandated to make application on behalf of abused children must also play their role because

GBV leads to child abuse

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