Kenya: when home is no longer a safe haven
While the streets of the Korogocho slums in Kenya are fraught with risk for children, many tragedies occur unobserved within the home. Terre des hommes (Tdh) helps to rehabilitate children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and ensure they grow up in a safe environment.
Cary’s* story begins in one of the many tin-roofed houses in Korogocho, Nairobi – an area where nearly 200,000 people, 40% of them children, live crammed into just 1.5 square kilometres. The streets are certainly precarious here, but home was where the danger lay for this 9 year-old girl. “Grandpa does bad things to me while my little sister is doing her homework”, Cary confided to her instructor one day. Having attended a Terre des hommes training for detecting symptoms of domestic violence and sexual abuse, he became worried when he noticed Cary “behaving in a detached way and having difficulty running”. He alerted the police and Tdh, who found a place for Cary and her sister in the Korogocho rescue centre for children.
Over 80% of children are victims of violence
In working to protect children, Tdh comes into daily contact with tragedies just like Cary’s. Take Tom*, for example, a 9 year-old boy who was badly burned by his mother as a punishment for stealing 100 shillings (one Swiss franc). “Domestic violence is endemic to Kenya”, explains Marie Joron, a Tdh delegate based in Nairobi. And it’s a phenomenon most prevalent in the slums – over 80% of children in Korogocho are subject to violence.
Were it not for destitution, Cary would not have come into contact with her abusive grandfather. For it was poverty that drove her mother to work as a prostitute to earn money to feed her children, and eventually killed her. After her death, the children moved to live with their grandparents. Cary’s grandfather was feared in the neighbourhood, and imposed a wall of silence.
The burden of taboos
All alone in her distress, the little girl was crushed by fear of reprisals and the weight of cultural taboos that extinguish the voice of many victims of sexual abuse in Kenya. “The community simply doesn’t acknowledge that a parent can commit such an atrocity”, laments Moge Hassan, a Tdh child protection specialist in Garissa, near the Somalian border. “This means the way is open for those who commit sexual abuse – for they’re never considered suspects”.
It’s a recurrent theme at the Garissa centre for the protection of children, directed by Tdh and UNICEF. Nearly a third of children there have experienced domestic violence – resulting in pregnancies, genital mutilations, and dropping out of school. These children have no choice but to flee their homes, becoming easy targets for exploitation, such as prostitution.
At the centres in Garissa and Korogocho, Tdh provides medical assistance to children and helps heal their psychological wounds through therapy and recreational activities. The teams keep in close touch with the families of sufferers too.
We also train child protection societies and give financial assistance to homes to cover their most urgent needs. “As soon as a case is reported, we visit the family to identify the causes of maltreatment and how we can address these”, explains Joyce Wamaitha Kiarie, a Tdh psychologist. “We try to ensure that children can eventually return to a family environment”, she continues.
Cary hopes to become a nurse and so “help other children”. Tdh social workers visit her regularly. She’s looking forward to joining her little sister, who has been placed with an aunt, at the end of the school year. In the meantime, Cary is blossoming in the secure environment of the rescue centre, and rediscovering her childhood.
Photo credit: ©Tdh/Natalia Jidovanu
*The names of the children have been changed in order to protect their privacy.