Safe houses, a necessity in handling gender based violence cases
Roselyne Adhiambo (name withheld) is a class eight pupil in Kisumu County. Like all the other candidates in Kenya, she is among thousands of children who are waiting to sit for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCP E) exams by the end of this month.
Unlike other children who may be receiving success cards and encouragement from their relatives and friends, Adhiambo has to put up in a well-wishers’ house to regain peace of mind before she embarks on her exams that will define her future.
Without much support from her family, the 14 year old suffers in silence for fear of discrimination in the event she discloses her predicament.
Adhiambo’s case adds to statistics of defilement cases that continue to rise in Kenya. In many counties, defilement leads in the reported cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
Like most children who are sexually abused, Adhiambo was not defiled by a stranger but a close relative who happens to be her step father.
Adhiambo’s case is now in court and the perpetrator is in custody. With assistance from paralegals, Adhiambo’s mother has been pursuing justice for her daughter.
The only challenge now is getting pyscho-social support for Adhiambo and serene environment which can facilitate her healing from this traumatic experience.
According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report titled Taking Child Protection to the Next Level in Kenya, all children in Kenya are potentially at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. However, some groups are more vulnerable than others due to their gender, social status or geographical location.
Studies further conducted on defilement reveal that most children are molested by people close to them, sometimes family members. Often, these cases are not reported, and of those reported, many cases are dropped in the early stages due to ignorance, poverty or fear.
Findings of a study by International Rescue Committee under the Peace Initiative Kenya Project titled: My Action Counts: An Assessment of Gender Based Violence Responses in Kisumu County of Kenya , indicates that during school holidays, cases of defilement reported at the Kisumu Police Station are between seven and 10 in a day, majority being from the informal settlements.
According Margaret Omondi, Executive Director at Women’s Concern Centre based in Nyalenda, Kisumu County, they receive about five cases of defilement in a week but the numbers rise during school holidays. Many of these cases are compounded by challenges within the slums areas which include poverty.
“Most of the children in the informal settlements come from families but challenges lie on the way the houses have been constructed very close to each other,” explains Omondi. She notes: “Some of the children come from families where their mothers are widowed and have been inherited by men who end up being perpetrators.”
Although many of such cases have succeeded to go through court process, the challenge lies on where to put these children due to insecurity at home.
“Lack of safe houses has made some of the cases to be compromised and others thrown out,” observes Omondi.
“Due to the long judicial process, many of the survivor’s families are traumatised, especially when they see perpetrators walking freely around in the communities having been released on bond or cash bail,” notes Omondi
The same sentiments are echoed by Job Odindo, a gender based activist in Ahero, Kisumu County who says lack of proper established rescue centres particularly in Nyando, Nyakach and Muhoroni make it difficult to handle survivors especially those that are vulnerable due to their economic status such as school girls and women.
According to the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act 2015 and Victim Protection Act 2014, survivors of violence are entitled to protection, compensation and restitution during criminal trial proceedings and also to allow for civil proceedings against the offender.
“In the absence of these safe houses, we are forced to put up with survivors in our own houses together with our families as cases progress in order to offer them shelter and counselling,” explains Odindo.
According to Odindo and Omondi, most of the support for survivors includes digging deeper into their pockets to support the survivors with basic necessities such as food and clothing.
In the case of Women’s Concern Centre which is a membership Community Based Organisation that brings together paralegals that address GBV, the members contribute to buy food for the survivors.
Ideally, a safe house, in the context of gender based violence, is a home that provides an alternative shelter to survivors of violence. The intended purpose of a safe house is to keep the survivor away from the perpetrator, with the aim of supporting them in dealing with the traumatic experience, as well as preparation for the legal process.
An ideal safe house should offer comprehensive services including psycho-social and legal support as well as follow-up care and in the end ensure access to justice.
In addition, good safe houses should provide economic or vocational empowerment to equip victims with the necessary skills to lead independent lives in future. It is necessary to collaborate with government institutions and like-minded stakeholders to ensure proper ethical and safety standards are adhered to.
For the successful implementation of these safe houses, both national and county governments have to set aside budgets for the establishment of these centres.
One of the key campaigns that seek the accountability of leaders in spearheading the establishment of these centres is through Keeping the Promise Campaign against Gender Based Violence spearheaded by the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC).
“Some of the priority areas during the second year of this campaign include seeking commitment from county governments to establish rescue centres and Gender Violence Recovery Centres (GVRCs),” says Stephanie Mutindi, Programme Officer at NGEC.
Efforts have also been made by female legislators in Kisumu County to establish rescue centres. Farida Salim, a nominated County Assembly Member (MCA) has tabled a motion seeking the establishment of a rescue centre.
Kisumu County Assembly in its 2016-2017 budget allocated funds to oversee the establishment of two rescue centres in Kisumu West and Nyakach sub-counties.
In Nairobi County, a motion presented by Racheal Kamweru for the establishment of shelters for GBV survivors received overwhelming support from the Members of County Assembly.
Even though there is political goodwill, there is need for vigilance to ensure that actual implementation happens to benefit survivors of gender based violence such as Adhiambo as they await justice.