CREAW Kenya says it is time to start age appropriate sexual education in schools
By Facility Odero
As if the dreaded Covid-19 and the disruptions it has caused in Migori County is not bad enough, the shadow pandemic-Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and especially sexual and domestic violence against women and girls- has reared its ugly head, making situation worse.
In just few weeks after Kenya confirmed its first coronavirus case and started implementing restriction and containment measures to curb the spread of the disease, Migori County has registered a rising number of sexual violence. The defilement of girls and child marriages have resulted in increased teenage pregnancies in the wake of Covid-19.
The abuses started rising after schools were closed as part of the coronavirus containment measures. These girls are school going, which means the situation has now complicated their young lives. Most will drop out of school to become mothers, and are likely to live a life of poverty. Some of the girls have since eloped with their abusers to neighbouring Tanzania.
Parents and the county’s leadership are now scratching their heads on the best way to deal with and prevent the trend.
Pamella Odhiambo, the county’s Woman Representative, regrets that some parents are behind the marrying off of their girls at a tender age, since March, especially.
“We have to be more vigilant at the borders in a bid to deal with cases of children being married off in Tanzania. Parents who collude with perverted adults to marry off their daughters at a tender age should also be dealt with,” Dr Odhiambo said recently when she issued sanitary towels to more than 800 girls from Kuria West sub county.
The County MP is now appealing to local administrations to act quickly and arrest and take to court perpetrators of these child marriages among communities living along border towns.
“We cannot take the education of girls for granted. We have to protect them just like our parents did to us. Had I been married off as a child, I would not have been where I am today,” the Woman Rep says.
Governor Okoth Obado says scrutiny will be increased along the border towns to help rescue minors being married off.
According to the governor, those living in Kuria and Nyatike sub-counties are among the most vulnerable. “We will be more vigilant and heighten surveillance to ensure they are not molested further,’’ he pledged.
But Mr Obado cautions parents against running away from their responsibilities to their children-both girls and boys.
“Parents are major stakeholders in nurturing and protecting our adolescents. They have to play a pivotal role of guiding their children and instilling values in them especially during this period of the pandemic,” the governor says.
Recently, four minors from Kuria East sub-county were forced into marriage, but fortunately, human rights campaigners intervened and took the girls to rescue centres.
Still, this situation has the leaders worried that, should it continue, gender equality and equity in the area would remain a mirage and the gender gap will continue to widen.
Meanwhile, cases of sexual attacks against children are also a matter of concern in Migori, with the attackers becoming more daring.
For instance, in mid early June, a 13-year old girl was sexually assaulted by a man said to be well known to the family. By the time of going to press, the minor was in hospital nursing serious injuries from the assault.
The attacker pounced on the little girl from Awendo Sub County while she was in the company of her siblings. Her grief stricken mother is now demanding justice for her daughterstandard three pupil.
The child is among many who are falling victim to abusers during this Covid-19 period. Many of the attackers, somehow, get away with the savagery.
Mr Seth Midenyo, a clinician and a human rights campaigner who helped the child access treatment, describes the situation in the area as alarming.
The Officer Commanding Awendo Police Division, (OCPD), Mary Musyoka, said police were investigating the assault and were on the trail of the abuser.
Data from Childline Kenya indicates an increase in Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) against children during the Covid-19 period.
On average, the report indicates seven children are abused daily, with the cases ranging from physical, sexual abuse, teen marriages to child neglect and abandonment.
These cases of child abuse have almost tripled since week of March.
However, officials at the centre which works in partnership with government and runs a nationwide helpline service that operates 24 hours in a bid to protect and stop child abuse, say many cases go unreported.
Childline Kenya’s helpline can be accessed by dialing 116.
Teenage pregnancies have lately become a matter of national concern in Kenya following revelations that hundreds of minors in all counties have fallen pregnant since schools were closed. Although the shocking report which has since become controversial with the government appearing to denounce the huge numbers and its authenticity, the reality is that teenage pregnancies and sexual violence against minors have shot up since Covid-19 struck and the stay home directive was implement alongside other containment measures.
In responding to the teenage pregnancy figures, Centre for Rights Education And Awareness (CREAW Kenya) as quite disheartening.
The women’s rights organisation proposes that in order to prevent and deal with the situation, it is important to provide safety nets either in cash or in kind to vulnerable families. This, they suggest, would help reduce the risk and vulnerability of the girls.
The use of call centres/helplines, including one that has been set up by the National Police to check up on families that already at risk will be helpful.
“The Ministry of Education should start allowing age appropriate sexual education sessions in schools,’’ CREAW suggests.
Further, CREAW Kenya adds that even during the Covid-19 period, the Education Ministry should activate media messages urging parents on better parenting as well as sexual education messages targeting boys and girls.
CREAW Kenya, proposes the need to push all the 47 counties to prioritise issues of GBV and Sexual Reproductive Health with budget allocation to conduct initiatives that would lead to decrease of teenage pregnancies and access to sexual education. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says the impact of Covid-19 on girls and women could be catastrophic, projecting that in the next decade, there will be 13 million child marriages that could have otherwise been averted.