Story originally ran in the Standard on Sunday on Jun 5 2016
Kenya’s Coast is famed for its white sandy beaches and sky blue waters. But underneath the glitz and glamour lies an ugliness of epic proportions. Every day, and repeatedly, children who can hardly tell their right hand from their left – male and female – suffer at the hands of those they trust the most. Children as young as five narrate harrowing details of sexual abuse at the hands of individuals they have entrusted their entire lives to.
In a cruel reversal of roles, individuals, who in an ideal world would give their all to protect children, sodomise and destroy the innocent souls; some of the adults turning against their own flesh and blood. The Standard on Sunday recorded testimonies of innocent children through their parents and social workers. Some tortured. Some secretly abused for years by their school teachers, madrassa tutors, fathers, mothers and even some errant members of the National Police Service.
In the sleepy village of Marereni in Kilifi, a family of four celebrated the arrival of their new son in muted tones. Unlike their three previous children, something was amiss with their last born. He didn’t cry at birth even after several slaps by the attending midwife. And as the years progressed, the child’s parents noticed their last born was different from the rest. For one he could not talk. Plus, he didn’t seem quite alright. But they did not seek any additional help and instead, chose to lock the boy in a room within their house. Rarely was he seen in public. When the boy turned twelve, his father told his wife that he had identified a centre that would cater for his extra needs and they were willing to take him.
One morning, after the child’s mother had left for the market, his father left home with his special needs son and told everyone that he was taking him to the centre. Nine months later, a neighbour walked into the family’s cow pen and stumbled onto a chilling scene. Tied on a post at the furthest end of the cow pen was the boy. Shriveled. Bleeding. And in tears. Ruptured at his rear from repeat assaults.
“We were called to the scene and had to rush the boy straight to hospital. He underwent emergency corrective surgery and is still on the path of recovery,” Cheupe Mohamed (not her real name) told The Standard on Sunday. This is just one of the cases under her watch. “This is not an entirely strange phenomenon in this part of the country. Those closest to the children more often than not are the ones who abuse them,” she says.
Joceline and Aisha know this too well. A few kilometres from Mtwapa is Mzambarauni village. Mzambarauni is a typical Swahili village of narrow allies with homes close together. Here, it is almost impossible to have a conversation without your neighbour listening in. The thin coral walls do not keep much inside the low roofed houses. When you make your way through the corridors, it is mandatory to smile and politely greet everyone you meet. It is customary. It is normal. But Mzambarauni too has some bit of the abnormal. Women spoke of their pain.
“Aisha’s husband is the eldest in the homestead. My husband is the second born. Our mother-in-law leaves nearby so our children used to visit their grandmother’s homestead often. One day I noticed my daughter had urinary incontinence,” Joceline says. Unknown to her, her brother-in -law had made a habit of molesting her 5-year-old. “He would gather all the children in his mother’s house and show them pornography then do whatever he wanted to do with them,” she says. Among the other children was Aisha’s.
At any particular time, the women say, their brother-in-law entertained no less than four children in the house. “We don’t know where he is now. He has fled. But once in a while we hear rumours of his sighting but he disappears before we can call the police,” Joceline says. Now, she and others like her who have seen their children go through abuse are not only policemen but also hope to be law enforcers; always on the lookout for the abusers.
“Shida kubwa hapa ni kua wanaoharibu watoto wetu wanafichwa. Hawalali kichakani. Wanalala kwa ndugu zao wanaowaficha,” she says. She not only carries anger and bitterness within her, but also betrayal. Her husband wants nothing to do with the defilement case she filed at Vipingo Police Station. “Yuasema nataka kufunga nduguye bila sababu…,” she says. Further north is Matandale, a village located off the main Mombasa- Malindi Highway. The only mode of transport from the main road is by boda boda for Sh100.
“But when it rains you can pay up to Sh300 because of the bad road. And also, crocodiles move in the rain water to the roads. So boda bodas charge you three times more because they say they are not only carrying you but protecting you from the crocodiles too,” Ven jokes. But behind her smile is a load of sadness. At her homestead, her 13-year old daughter cradles a one month old baby boy. The child’s father is on the run; hunted down by the State for child abuse. He was an instructor at a nearby Madrassa. “He lured me with money,” Ven’s daughter says in a barely audible voice. Her mother’s presence makes her uneasy. In her world she thinks the abuse was her fault. Or at least she thinks her mother blames her.
It is only after Ven leaves that her daughter opens up. But just. “Saa zingine alikua akinipata nikitoka shuleni anipa shilingi hamsini… saa zingine mia… hivo hivo tu mpaka akaniingiza kwake,” she says. Then the baby came. Then her life changed. Forever. She plans to go back to school and sit her KCPE. But only if she, at 14 years, gets a nanny for her son. What does she think of when she looks at her child? She smiles. The silence is awkward. She retreats into herself again perhaps fearing that the words that almost fall out of her lips would incriminate her. She doesn’t speak again. Free movies “Every month we get between seven to ten defilement cases. These are the ones that are impossible to hide,” Charo Tangai of Bombolulu says. “Most of the cases do not get to us. It is particularly worse when the victims are boys,” he says as he narrates an ordeal two brothers aged six and seven went through at the hands of a video hall owner.
“The man told the brothers he would give them some odd jobs to do instead of idling around the neighbourhood. But in place of money, he would give them an all access pass to the video den. Once they went in for the free movies, he’d drug them and sodomise them,” Charo says. “Luckily, the man is now behind bars.” Most of the time though, convictions are hard to come by. Often, money is offered to the family of the victim by the abuser’s family.
“This can be anything between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000 depending on either the negotiating skills of the abuser or the greed of the parent,” Charo says. “The broker is in many cases the area chief or village elder.” And at their time of need, the victims say help from law enforcement has been painfully pursued. “Sometimes I ask myself whether I should go to the police station daily to find out the status of my case or fend for my other children,” Aisha, whose 8 year old daughter was molested by her brother-in-law says.
“If I go to the police station every day to chase after the case, then my children will sleep hungry.” Also, she says if she pursues justice to the very end, the defiler’s people, who are also her husband’s people, and by marriage her people too, might ostracise her from her community. “Kisha niende wapi? Tutatupwa nje sisi zote, mpaka huyu aliyeharibiwa,” she sums up.
With these fears from some parents, a settlement plan that mocks the sanctity of life, some parts of Kenya’s beautiful Coast will continue to be playground for paedophiles.