She was only nine years old and in class three when she was defiled by the most trusted person and the symbol of security in her life.
Immaculate (not her real name) is now aged 24 and living with a relative to escape from the perpetrator, her real father. The man is yet to stop making sexual advances towards her.
What is of a major concern is that Immaculate’s story is a replica of that of many children in Kisii County where defilement in the family is rising drastically.
Isabella (not her real name) is aged 9 and had a similar experience few months ago committed by her step father after the mother left for work leaving the two in the house.
Her mother only realized after Isabella developed a weird walking style after she developed a tear and an infection during the second incident.
Two siblings, Purity and Joy (not real names) aged 15 years and 13 respectively were also defiled by their stepfather when they were aged 8 and 6 respectively.
This was after their mother separated with their step father leaving them at the mercy of the perpetrator.
These children are some of those that are lucky to be rescued and placed in a children’s home, in this case, Home of Grace Care centre which is located in Amaiba Sub location, Nyaribari Chache constituency in Kisii central Sub County.
Experts are now calling for urgent concerted effort to end the menace which they say is headed to a crisis especially because the current high rate of teenage pregnancies during the Covid-19 global pandemic is forming a cycle for the predicament.
According to the County Children’s coordinator Beatrice Obutu, perpetrators of defilement are mainly close relatives, who included fathers and stepfathers, in cases of those born out of wedlock.
“Cases are coming up where children born out of wedlock are being defiled by their step fathers and their mothers are shying from taking action because they either do not want to leave other children they have with the perpetrator, or fear being thrown out of the marriage as they are not economically empowered to stand on their own,” says Obutu.
Just like in the case of Immaculate, such cases go unreported or are dropped because women are prevailed upon by the community to stop pursuing the matter. In other instances, they have nowhere to go because land is an emotive issue with many families getting embroiled in legal battles while women property inheritance is low.
“The naivety nature of children that makes them most vulnerable to perpetrators is now calling for purposive measures to place the children under care and protection,” chips in Leah Ogega, the County Reproductive Health Coordinator.
Immaculate and Isabella explain that they kept the separate incidents secret from their mothers because the fathers threatened them with dire consequences if they dared speak out.
Immaculate only broke the silence after primary education and it caused a serious a rift between her two parents which ended in her father declining to pay her secondary school fees leaving her mother to raise the money from menial jobs.
However, this is not always the case. Mothers occasionally appeal to their children to keep mum or drop reported cases for fear of shame and because they don’t want to break their marriage relationships.
Obutu says the trend is also being witnessed where children from as young as three months are being sexually abused by their fathers, uncles, brothers, while others by neighbors, boda boda riders and shopkeepers who entice them with sweets.
She notes the need for proper coordination between all partners to ensure more efficient and effective services that offer responsive and preventive measures for the best interest of the children who comprise 52 percent of the county population.
To Ogega, Covid-19 pandemic which was reported in the country last year only helped to complicate issues of the children who are not physically and psychologically prepared for sexual relationships and its outcomes.
The effects include physical injuries like tears in the genitalia, Sexually Transmitted Diseases including HIV, gonorrhea, virginities and early pregnancies which could cause fistula during child birth.
Ruth Mogaka, a Counseling Psychologist at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital says cases of mental illness have spiked in the area with suicide cases which were previously being witnessed among people of ages 15-29, now affecting those as young as 12 years and the elderly.
Mogaka attributes the factor to dysfunctional families leading to lack of father figure, challenges posed by covid19 pandemic and its challenges on the global economy like loss of jobs and businesses.
She says lock down and work from home order by the government to contain spread of corona virus led to rise in defilement cases by 70%, rape cases by 60%, incest 40% and sodomy 16%.
“Increase in teenage pregnancies from defilement reached a record 4,000 last year,” she says, adding “loss of trust and self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and depression are some of the consequences of such traumatic incidents.”
The Psychologist also explains that many men tended to resolve their stress through sex in spite of whom they have it with. The experts feel the time is now for stakeholders to work out measures to reverse the trend.
These stakeholders include Area Advisory Council members which consist of various nongovernmental organizations like churches and civil society, and government departments like the Probation and Ministry of Health, the police, Interior Ministry and the children’s department.
The other partner is the Court users committee which is comprised of the police, lawyers, ODPP, state council and the community who when they work in concert will ensure that survivors of such heinous acts receive justice and deterrent sentences meted out on perpetrators.
Obutu decries lack of a safe haven for survivors saying sensitization is needed to ensure that database is streamlined to seal all gaps that lead to delayed or lost justice for the survivors, since stakeholders who fail at particular points during the process will be exposed.
“The move will go a long way in reducing Gender Based Violence on children in the county where Female Genital Mutilation stands at 84%,” chips in Ogega.
Obutu reminds parents to seek medical attention immediately they suspect defilement before cleaning the children or changing their clothes, and to ensure they maintain the truth during the whole justice process which is required for prosecution.
Mogaka urges the residents to seek counseling services immediately they experience signs of stress including persistent low moods, lack of pleasures previously enjoyed, persistent feelings of low self-esteem and suicidal tendencies among others. They can also call the counseling helpline 0114851238
By Jane Naitore