Create safe environment where all children can learn and grow

By Martin Juma | Feb. 23, 2023

A boy plays at their home at Bidii centre in Kitale, Trans Nzoia county on March 25, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

In Kenya, the challenges of child safeguarding in communities and schools is well documented. Sadly, pupils are often victims, and in a large number of instances, teachers have been cited as the perpetrators. Between 2014 and 2019, on average 125 teachers a year were dismissed by the Teacher Service Commission (TSC) for sexual abuse in schools; but cases that result in dismissal almost fade into insignificance when reviewed against abuse figures.

In 2009, the TSC reported that up to 12,660 girls were sexually abused by teachers over a five-year period but despite that only 633 teachers were charged with sexual abuse in the same period, and most cases went unreported. Records at the TSC were not clear on the number of schoolgirls abused but the report said that in some cases, teachers abused as many as 20 girls in a single school before they were reported.

In 2019, the TSC reported that it had terminated 1,228 primary and secondary school teachers in the previous seven years because of sexually abusing learners. The TSC admitted that many more cases go unreported because some cultures engender early marriages, while vulnerable parents accept hush money from perpetrators. 

Numerous studies have been carried out on the sexual abuse of learners by teachers in Kenya. One such study in 2014 interviewed 500 students. 57.6 per cent of the respondents perceived sexual abuse in Makueni County as ‘high’ while only 10.2 per cent perceived it as low. The study also showed that only 10 per cent of sexual abuse cases are being reported to the TSC, and even among those reported, just 70 per cent of the teachers were either dismissed or retired, while 30  per cent were transferred to other institutions.

Apart from child safeguarding and child endangerment issues being reported in schools, studies have shown that the menace is also prevalent within the community. A survey carried out in 2019 by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection measuring the prevalence, nature, and consequences of physical, emotional, and sexual violence against children and youth, identified some concerning trends that are documented in the ‘Violence Against Children Survey Report – 2019’.

Among the 15.6 per cent of females who experienced childhood sexual violence, nearly two-thirds (62.6 per cent) experienced multiple incidents before 18 years of age. For females, intimate partners are the most common perpetrators of childhood sexual violence, comprising 44.4  per cent of the first incidents. Only two out of five females who experienced childhood sexual violence (41.3 per cent) told someone about an incident of sexual violence.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation. The closure of schools and the introduction of remote working exposed vulnerable children to sex predators who interacted with them more often. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data shows that defilements increased to 6,801 in 2020 from 5,397 in 2019, a 26  per cent increase.

These trends and statistics should be a source of concern to us. I am happy to note that the government has developed the 2019-2023 National Prevention and Response Plan on Violence against Children. The plan consists of six strategic areas: Laws and Policies; Family support – parenting skills and economic strengthening; Education and life skills; Community norms and values; Response and support services; and  Coordination.

The Plan takes a whole-of-society approach as preventing and effectively responding to violence requires the involvement of all sectors, children themselves, youth, parents, caregivers, families, and communities.

The private and NGO sectors have also not been left behind. Safeguarding is rapidly becoming a key commitment and accountability function in many organisations and institutions in Kenya, mirroring the global trend seeking to ensure that organisations uphold the duty of care and do no harm principle as they conduct their operations and initiatives for the benefit of vulnerable and marginalized societies.

In 2021, a group of like-minded organisations came together to form an alliance, Child Safeguarding Association of Kenya (CSAK), that would speak in one voice regarding child safeguarding matters. They include, but are not limited to, Ujamaa Africa, Médecins San Frontiers, Bridge Kenya, Wangu Kanja Foundation, and Plan International. CSAK has clear objectives of providing best practice principles for safeguarding children in Kenya with respect to the varied environments and challenges alike. It is hoped that more organisations will commit to focusing on and preventing this issue – perhaps by joining CSAK.

In Kenya, we are heading in the right direction, but more needs to be done to create a safe environment where our children can learn and grow.

Mr Juma is also the Chairman of the Child Safeguarding Association of Kenya Secretariat.