Parental Neglect the Primary Cause for Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation
Parental neglect, poor parenting skills and communication breakdown between parents and their children are the major risk factors contributing to high rates of rape and child sexual abuse in slums and informal settlements.
In recent months, children and infants as young as six months old have fallen victim to violent sexual crime and abuse, with most cases being reported in slum areas.
A few weeks ago in Makina area of Nairobi’s Kibera Slum, a four year old girl was sexually defiled by her neighbor in broad daylight. Apparently the child’s mother had sent the child to deliver money to the man’s house in payment for a debt she owed him.
Residents of the area recount that on the fateful afternoon, they heard loud music blasting from the single-room house of the man. But on listening keenly, they could also hear the distressed cries of a child emerging from the room.
After knocking on the door for endless minutes without response, the anxious crowd broke down the door. Inside the shanty, they found the little girl screaming in pain, her genitals completely maimed and bleeding profusely, having been brutally defiled by the man. They rescued her but it was too late, the damage had already been done.
This is just one of the horrific stories emerging from the six-month long community radio listening project AMWIK has been conducting in Nairobi’s Kibera and Korogocho slums.
The project is titled ‘Community and Youth Awareness on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Kibera and Korogocho slums in Nairobi County through Community Radio Listening Programmes and Media.’ It is sponsored by The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) and began in July 2015.
The project has been running in 11 informal schools and one public school in Nairobi’s Kibera and Korogocho slums. It targets parents, teachers and pupils with the aim of increasing their knowledge on matters including child sexual abuse and exploitation, rape, the process of seeking justice after abuse, how to protect evidence after an assault incident and punishment for sex offenders.
The radio programmes are compiled and produced by AMWIK and they cover topics including parenting skills, understanding gender based violence, preventing sexual abuse and exploitation and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In these intimate sessions, participants share their personal experiences as they learn better ways of addressing issues of sexuality in the community.
From the programmes, it has also emerged that living in poverty is a major challenge barring parents from being actively involved in the consistent monitoring and disciplining of their children.
The lack of stable income, poor living conditions and housing crises, lack of access to medical facilities and inadequate food supply for slum residents are among the factors contributing to the high rate of criminal activities, including rape and child sexual abuse.
“Most parents in this slum are casual laborers, so every day they have to wake up early to go and search for odd jobs,” says Susan Mohamed, a parent and member of the Kibera radio listening group.
She says that by the time parents and guardians return from work, it is already nightfall. This makes it virtually impossible for them to spend time with their children. As a result, there is a huge gap in parenting skills and parent-child communication in most households.
“Sometimes parents wake their children very early to go to school while it is still dark, thus unaccompanied children are often preyed on by rapists,” she says.
Besides this, young girls in some households are often forced by their parents to engage in sexual activities in exchange for money in order to supplement their family income.
Alice Atieno, a parent and resident of Kibera slum, says that since finding proper housing is expensive in the slums, most families prefer living in single-roomed houses which they partition using curtains. However, this is a major challenge because it exposes children to their parents’ intimate encounters as they are separated only by a curtain.
Everlyne Machika, a resident of Makina area recounts an incident she witnessed whereby a man repeatedly had sexual relations with his teenage daughter ‘kama vile tunafanya na mama’ (the same way we do it with mother).
The 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) estimates that the age of sexual debut among adolescents in Kenya is between 15 and 17 years old. However in slums and informal settlements, the age of sexual debut is at 13 years old.
This early age can be blamed on internet exposure as more children now have access to the internet through mobile phones, movie halls and cyber cafes where they stream pornographic material.
However, it can also be attributed to rape. Sadly, the nature and frequency of rape cases in urban slum areas has taken on a violent nature. Gang rapes are becoming common whereby girls are lured by their boyfriends to deserted areas where groups of young men lurk, waiting for their prey.
“There is a recent case of a young girl who went to a room with her boyfriend thinking it was just the two of them, but when she got there she was pounced on by a group of almost 10 boys and they repeatedly gang-raped her for hours,” says Susan Mohamed.
Unfortunately for residents, corruption has infiltrated the justice system and police officers are now collecting bribes from offenders to avert justice.
Skills and Knowledge
Justus Musyimi, the Headmaster of Makina Self Primary School in Kibera says that parents have to become more responsible and practical in dealing with their children.
Musyimi points to a recent episode where parents of some children in upper-primary school were summoned to the school. It emerged that the children had been meeting in deserted classrooms at the school on Sunday evenings to engage in sexual activities.
“Parents should teach their children how to have integrity thought-wise,” states Musyimi adding “all children should be taught to strive to good.”
“Parents do not have time for their children, they don’t talk to their children about real issues and some are scared so they hide information from them,” laments Susan Mohamed, who is also a mother of two teenage daughters.
Esther Njogu a social worker at the Kibera Nairobi Family Support Services (NFSS) and facilitator of the radio listening group says that parents are not open with their children on matters of sexuality.
“Parents don’t talk to their kids because they lack skills and knowledge,” she says adding “they also fear how to handle issues which their children experience with their sexuality.”
Parents have lauded the radio listening initiative, asking that it be rolled out to more schools and parents’ meetings so that more people can gain vital skills and knowledge on parenting and sexuality.
“Some issues are difficult to discuss between parents and their children, but the radio programmes set the conversations in motion and make it easier for them to communicate,” notes Njogu.