We must do better for our children

Elders are supposed to lead by example. They are the supposed to be the highly respected reservoirs of a society’s wisdom. They are supposed to pass on cultures and traditions. They are supposed to teach. They are supposed to correct. They are supposed to uplift. Most importantly they are supposed to protect. Oh, how I wish they would all just do what they are supposed to.

I remember a few years ago when we had gone to see the government doctor, there was a girl there, about 5 years old, who looked visibly shaken. That light that emanates from every child’s eyes was lacking in hers. She was in the company of her parents. Her mother held her hand while her father stood next to them fidgeting. I wondered what their story was. After several hours of queuing waiting for our turn, we found out that the girl had been raped by her father. The police brought them in so that she could be examined.  Like most people around me, I was saddened and enraged. The girl was raped by her father, forced to sit in a car with him, and later examined by the doctor in his presence. WHY? Why would someone rape a little girl, rape anyone for that matter? Her own father who was supposed to protect and defend her, chose to rape her instead. Why keep the girl in his presence?

Sadly, this is something that happens to many children in Kenya. It is sickening. What’s worse is that rape is taken so lightly such that victims are often blamed and judged. It’s not uncommon for victims to be told that they provoked the rapists or even that they consented either by a gesture or their body language. In cases where children are raped by their fathers, their mothers are often blamed. They are accused of bringing up ill-mannered children who lack the ability to resist sexual advances, or not fulfilling their wifely duties adequately such that their husbands are forced to look elsewhere.

A few months ago, a children’s charity filed a petition on behalf of over 240 victims of child rape. They were raped by fathers, uncles, grandfathers, policemen and neighbors. Over 240…it’s heartbreaking. The police refused to investigate unless there were witnesses, claimed the girls consented to intercourse and even locked up one of the victims. Thankfully, the High Court ordered the police to reinvestigate the complaints of rape. It shouldn’t take the intervention of the court for the police to do something that they were supposed to do from the get go.

The girls experiences are a clear indicator that we need to change our systems. With the broken systems that we have, people know that they can commit crimes against children and go on about their daily business merrily. Police threaten the victims with jail time if they speak up against them or the other perpetrators who are considered respected members of the community. In cases where the police or one of their own are not involved, they ask for bribes before they can carry out any investigations.

Enough is enough. As a society, we must do better for our children. We can’t let rapists keep getting away with it because they are “respected elders.” The system needs an overhaul. These bribe-taking police officers need to go. Justice must be served. Rapists cannot continue to hide behind titles that create an environment for them to continue living carefree as their victims suffer in silence. It’s unacceptable.

Enough with the victim-blaming. Enough with the perpetrator-protecting. Enough with callous community members. Enough with lazy leadership. Listen up leaders, these are the issues that need to be addressed not the furniture in parliament or your offices. After all, no fancy chair has ever created a safer environment. You, on the other hand, have the ability and power to create a safer Kenya for our children and our women. As communities we also need to play our role in the creation of an environment that we are not afraid to live in.

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