As Kenya have been focusing on hard-pressing challenges that accompanied the coronavirus, domestic and sexual violence has been happening behind closed doors.
The people who should be protecting and reassuring children who were sent home when the government closed schools are preying on them.
A week ago, the National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ) released a statement saying sexual offences have risen significantly in the two weeks following the government’s announcement of the 7pm-5am curfew. In fact, the cases constituted 35.8 per cent of the criminal matters reported within this duration.
Chief Justice David Maraga said there is a noteworthy spike in sexual offences in many parts of the country in the last two weeks. In some cases, the perpetrators are close relatives, guardians or persons living with the victims. People who are expected to take care of the young girls are the ones preying on them.
No Safe Havens for Victims of Sexual Violence
The Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji weighed in on the matter in an interview with a local TV station. He noted that his office had recorded a rise in the number of domestic and sexual violence cases since the curfew was announced.
“Defilement and rape is happening. Although we are still not able to tell in what environment or what context, but a lot of that is happening,” he said.
According to the NCAJ, in March alone, 115 cases were reported to the gender-based violence (GBV) hotline, 1195. This is a 33.72 per cent increase compared to the 86 that were reported in February.
According to statistics, women and girls have reported the highest cases between January and March.
In March, 106 women and girls reported either domestic or sexual violence while nine men and boys reported the same. Nairobi reported the highest cases of GBV.
Schools have always been a safe haven, at least for a few hours, for children that come from dysfunctional families.
But with the closure of schools, the curfew and now the restriction of travel between certain parts of the country. Children are at the mercy of abusers they cannot run away or hide from.
Government Should Issue Stern Warning to Perpetrators
Ms Leah Wangechi, the executive director of Centre for Rights Education and Awareness, Kenya, says her organisation has observed a sharp increase in domestic as well as sexual violence cases.
According to Ms Leah, another major contributing factor is the curfew and the restricted movements. “There is lots of impunity that has come with the curfew. To begin with, the perpetrator is likely to feel empowered because their victim’s chances of reporting them are limited. Besides, there’s nowhere to run to”.
But this shouldn’t be the case, she argues, since the government has a mandate to protect its citizens at all times.
“For years, we, (civil society) have been advocating for setting up of shelters where women and children. A place they can find refuge in case they are subjected to domestic and sexual violence. These cases are bound to go up in times of crisis. These would have come in handy now.”
With the government warning Kenyans to brace themselves for even more turbulent times ahead, such cases are likely to continue rising unless interventions are put place.
Ms Leah reckons that the government should lay out concrete plans on how it plans to tackle these issues.
“We need a strong political message. Stating that those who disregard the rights of women and children will face the full force of the law. The government should also set aside places where those who have been subjected to gender-based violence can seek shelter.”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch has asked the government to urgently protect women and girls against violence during this crisis.