Stakeholders in Lamu have raised a red flag over an increase in child exploitation cases among vulnerable communities affected by poverty amidst the COVID-19 crisis
18 early child pregnancy cases have been reported in Lamu’s Hindi division alone since schools shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to reports by World Vision Kenya amidst mounting fears that the global pandemic may well reverse the gains being made to stem child prostitution, exploitation and rising incest cases in the area.
With hundreds of such cases still going unreported in Lamu, national and county government officials have equally expressed concern over the rising child exploitation cases.
The spike in child exploitation cases in Lamu may well create an opportunity among various stakeholders for discussing just how prevalent child sexual abuse is in Lamu over a marked increase in numbers across all wards in 2020 in comparison 2019 with the current year only halfway.
Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia especially has been vocal in public barazas across the county, issuing stern warnings to would be perpetrators and predators’ alike urging security officials to be tough on child sexual exploitation cases
Sentiments expressed in the wake of authorities increasingly coming under scrutiny and pressure from community leaders for not doing more to curb underage sexual exploitation of girls especially in Lamu’s mainland areas of Hongwe, Hindi, Baharini and Witu that are registering increased defilement cases this year having registered 34%, 33%, 28% and 25% respectively.
“Of growing concern is the issue and increasing number of children being exploited by their own parents or guardians who pimp their daughters out to paedophiles in return for cash or favors,” World Vision Lamu area Manager Ndaru Mkoba divulged adding that the situation is especially rife among vulnerable families bearing the socioeconomic brunt of joblessness and poverty.
“The lack of jobs or even income is common red flag in most of these vulnerable households and communities where parents force their children in child prostitution or even early child marriages using them as revenue streams,” Mkoba adds.
Sentiments echoed by Chairman of Bargoni Primary school Pastor Eliud Sangu who further reveals how vulnerable communities such as the Boni community, have been an easy mark for unscrupulous individuals who come in the different shades from unscrupulous land dealers to sex predators.
“The Boni community especially here in Bargoni have been an easy target for sex predators, where some parents either due to poverty or lack of education choose to use their daughters to get money from sex predators,” Pastor Sangu states.
Villagers in Bargoni village told KNA that such is the recent story of a class 8 girl named Zuhura, in who was allegedly traded off by the mother Maryam to a well-known sex predator who had already impregnated two other girls from a neighbouring village.
“The girl was only rescued due to persistent efforts by the father, a day labourer who eventually got wind of the magnitude of the crime once his daughter was impregnated by the sex predator named Osman and in a sad turn of physically assaulted his wife with a panga,” Mama Abuli a Bargoni resident narrates.
Maryam shows us the bears hand and neck injuries from a panga attack by her husband who was against the idea of his daughter being sexually exploited for money.
It is alleged that the girl’s father ran off once the incident occurred with Osman eventually being arrested and charged with child defilement and remanded at Hindi Prison.
“Tough sentencing, better community policing through the Nyumba Kumi initiative, affirmative action programmes such as access to grants for youth, women and business groups are steps towards uplifting and shielding vulnerable communities against exploitation by sex predators,”Ilham Athman a Community Health Extension worker based in Hindi told KNA adding that in the past tough sentencing by former Senior Resident Magistrate Njeri Thuku had played a role in reversing the child exploitation trend in Lamu.
She also adds that the continued use of informal otherwise known as “Kangaroo courts” should be deterred at all costs in a bid to ensure justice is served through the courts on behalf of the exploited children.
Lamu Deputy Governor AbdulHakim Aboud on behalf of the county government stated that there is need for a multi stakeholder approach in tackling child exploitation and abuse cases in the county.
“Although the situation is dire there is hope especially with different stakeholders both from the political side and the administrative side to institute measures by way of a working group to provide a strong forefront in the push to rid the county and especially Hindi division off the profile of being a child prostitution prone area,” Aboud said.
He also said such a rise in child exploitation cases exposes the county’s youths to further health dangers such as HIV/AIDS and other STIs.
Sentiments echoed by Lamu Women Representative Ruweida Obo who spoke to KNA on phone stated that political goodwill coupled by irreproachable administrative action by chiefs and Nyumba Kumi elders could hold the key to ensuring that sexual exploitation of minors in Lamu is a thing of the past.
By Amenya Ochieng