#childabductors | Covid-19 makes girls’ case grimmer as teen pregnancies rise

By CAROLINE NJUNG’E

Though studies indicate that children are less susceptible to Civid-19, they are some of the biggest casualties of the pandemic in Kenya.

During his July 6 address on coronavirus, President Kenyatta decried the growing cases of violation of children’s rights, singling out teen pregnancies.

“I am concerned by increasing tensions in our homes. Cases of gender-based violence have increased… and instances of teenage pregnancy have escalated. I appeal to social institutions… to exercise civic responsibility and bring these unfortunate trends to an end,” the President said.

He directed the National Crime Research Centre to investigate child rights violations.

CASES SHOOT UP

Following the March 15 order to close learning institutions in a bid to tame the spread of the virus, crimes against children, including sexual abuse, abduction and murder, have shot up.

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Child marriage and female genital cutting have escalated.

With schools reopening next year, the dire situation can only get worse.

In Kajiado West Constituency, children who called Naning’oi Girls School home, face an uncertain future.

Almost half of the more than 300 students had either run away from marriage or escaped from their homes to avoid being given off to much older men after undergoing FGM, says Ms Selina Nkoile, 26.

EVERYTHING IS UNCERTAIN

The activist rescues girls from the cut and marriage and supports their education. Naning’oi, a public school, has over the years become a rescue centre for girls.

“For the girls, everything is uncertain. The closing of the school is a blow. Just recently, one of the mothers called to say that her daughter was threatening suicide after her father insisted on marrying her off when she got pregnant,” Ms Nkoile said.

The 15-year-old St Eight girl’s boyfriend is a man in his 20s who graduated from a teacher training college recently.

Ms Nkoile also received another distress call from a 16-year-old girl who fled to her boyfriend’s home on learning she was expectant.

Apart from early pregnancies, the activist says, cases of FGM – a practice outlawed many years ago – have risen during the pandemic.

NO OPEN CEREMONIES

However, they do not involve ceremonies as this could attract the attention of State officials.

She has heard of four marriages, all involving girls below 18.

“Since the school shut, the girls have nowhere to run to. The situation is made worse by the fact there is no police station in Mosiro ward, a rural area,” Ms Nkoile said. 

“Roads are impassable and the girls are left at the mercy of predators.”

Ms Nkoile feels helpless because the most she can do is visit the girls and attempt to convince their parents to take them back to school and not marry them off.

“If I had the powers, Naning’oi School would remain open to give vulnerable girls refuge,” she said.

COUNTIES’ DATA

According to a study by Kenya Health Information System whose results were released last month, about 4,000 teenage girls became pregnant in Machakos County between January and May.

Nakuru reported 1,748 cases while Kajiado, Garissa and Kericho had 1,523, 901 and 1,006 teen pregnancies respectively.

The report added that since the pandemic was reported Kenya in early March, some 20,828 girls between 10 and 14 years old had given birth while 24,106 15 to 19-year-olds  were either pregnant or already mothers.

The results of the study caused uproar, leading to a heated debate on social media for days.

Ms Wangechi Wachira, the executive director, Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness – an organisation that champions the rights of women and girls – says the rise in the number of teen pregnancies in the first four months of the pandemic shows that defilement is on the rise.

CONSENT TO SEX

“A girl younger than 18 cannot consent to sex. She is a child in the eyes of the law. Simply put, the law prohibits adults from engaging in sex with children. Anyone doing so is liable to a jail term of at least 15 years,” said Ms Wangechi, who added that parents have the biggest role to play in keeping their daughters safe.

“There are many individuals and institutions that are responsible for the welfare of children but the ultimate liability lies with parents. After all, the foremost perpetrators are the girls’ fathers, uncles, cousins and neighbours. These are individuals known to the parents.”

She also questions the manner in which courts handle defilement and rape cases.

Five days after a 14-year-old girl identified five men who raped and even recorded a statement with the police in Kisii County last month, the perpetrators had not been arrested.

But this is not the only case in which the wheels of justice have turned slowly or ground to a halt altogether.

In December 2019, officers at Isebania police station detained a 12-year-old girl for six days when she reported her father – a police officer – for defiling her.

PLEA FOR FORGIVENESS

The Standard 5 pupil first reported the incident at Nyabohanse Police Post, where a female officer called her father and the area chief, pleading with her to forgive him.

Ms Wangechi says relevant parties should revisit the conversation on reproductive health.

“The plain truth is that our children are having sex,” she said.

Abductions and killings of children are also on the rise.

According to a recent report by World Vision titled “Covid-19 Aftershocks”, the secondary impacts of the coronavirus threaten more children’s lives than the deadly disease itself.


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