Child abuse rife in western Kenya

16:12, October 26, 2009      

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As the world prepares to celebrate children's universal day on Nov. 20, dark clouds hung over Nyanza, an expansive province in western Kenya, where child abuse has been on a sharp rise in the recent past.

In many parts of this province that straddles Lake Victoria, children have nowhere to hide. Child rapists are everywhere -- in schools, homes, churches, in market centers and on the streets.

Police and child rights activists say incest was on the rise. Even teachers and church leaders who would have been expected to protect the child have been accused of defiling children under their care, some as young as five years.

The little girl broke into sobs when the teacher called out her name. She appeared terrified and struggled to cover her malnourished face with an exercise book.

Courts across Nyanza are teeming with defilement, incest and assault cases. Records from the provincial police headquarters in Kisumu indicate that Suba, a semi-arid district lying along the shores of Lake Victoria, has the most cases of child abuse.

This report is corroborated by Esther Soti, a community social worker who has founded an organization -- the Development Links Initiative Kenya(DEVLINK) to rescue and rehabilitate abused girls.

"The children in Nyanza are under siege. They have suddenly become the target of rapists. The trend is worrying because even fathers have turned against their children," Soti told Xinhua in an interview.

He said that in Suba District, where she works with the vulnerable groups, an average of five children are defiled every day.

"Many of the cases at the Homa bay law court which handles legal matters from Suba are linked to child abuse. If it is not defilement or incest, it is assault," she explained.

Three months ago, Soti helped to rescue a 14 years old orphaned school girl who had been forcefully married by her class teacher.

"The teacher, a 60 year-old polygamist lured the girl to his home by pretending he would sponsor her to a secondary school and buy her clothes.But he detained the girl and sexually assaulted her until I alerted the police," said Soti.

Just last week, a teacher was arrested and charged before the same court after he defiled a nursery school pupil.

Senior police officers who have handled many of the child abuse cases but who cannot be quoted because he is not allowed to speak about his work in the media says only a small fraction of the child rape cases were reported to the police.

"Majority of parents are still ignorant of the law and opt to keep to themselves whenever their children are raped. Others opt to remain silence after being threatened by the culprits.

Other parents, he said, opted to settle the rape cases out of court after being offered money by the rapists.

Although Kenya's new Sexual Offences Act outlaws out-of court settlement of rape cases, many sex pests still escape justice after using money to silence the complainants.

"Something must be bone to save our children from the rising number of sex pests. We have to educate our people to know their rights. Many parents still take up to one week before reporting rape cases. By the time they get to the police, all the key evidence had been wiped out," said Soti.

The matter has been worsened by the high poverty index in Nyanza. Some parents are too poor and desperate to turn down offers from people who had defiled their children.

Government's recent poverty survey showed that more than 90 percent of Nyanza residents live on less than one U. S. dollar per day.

A children's rights activist Ben Owala says the government should investigate why older men were defiling children young enough to be their great grand children.

He says some of the rapists have been diagnosed with HIV, the deadly virus that causes Aids, an indication their young victims could have been infected.

"Reports we get from the villagers indicate men are turning on the children allegedly for sexual healing. There is a belief that those suffering from HIV/AIDS can be healed if their had sex with virgin girls," Owala told Xinhua.

"Other men, we have been told, go for the children because they were free of HIV/AIDS. They feared sleeping with older women for fear of contracting the disease," said Owalla.

In 2007, a 52-year-old primary school teacher from a school in Nyando District was acquitted by a Kisumu court where he faced charges of sexually abusing 20 of his female pupils all aged between eight and 13 years.

Most of the pupils, some of whom dropped out of school after being impregnated by the same teacher, told the court how the teacher lured them to his house with food and money before raping them.

Human rights activists staged a protest after the court released him for alleged lack of evidence.

One barefoot girl aged 13 told the court: "Yes he lured me to his house and raped me three times. He promised to buy me shoes."

A document prepared by the authorities at Radhiang Primary School indicates up to 20 girls, half of them orphans, were raped by one teacher.

The youngest was in Class 3 and the oldest in class 6.

The girls were taken in by a local philanthropist, Hezekiash Nyaranga, who runs an orphanage.

Source: Xinhua
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