• Irungu Houghton

Greater awareness and vigilant action will stop rapes in our schools and society

First published Saturday Standard, June 9, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

School rapes and state corruption compete for our attention and action. Besides Moi Girls Secondary in Nairobi, there were at least four other reported cases of school-based rape this week. The national attention they have generated gives us an opportunity to reflect again on why we are not winning the war against child abuse.

Kenya has ratified the most important child rights protection international laws. We have enacted important constitutional provisions and laws that outlaw emotional and physical abuse, sexual harassment and neglect. Sadly, we know from experience that neither international and national laws guarantee the safety of our children without concerted enforcement.

By the time 71 girls were raped and 19 girls were killed by male students in St Kizito Secondary School in 1991, we had signed the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. Hopefully, St Kizito’s former Deputy Head-teacher Joyce Kithira is wiser now and regrets her infamous comments at the time, “The boys never meant any harm to the girls, they just wanted to rape them”.

Neither the UN Convention, the African children’s rights charter or Article 53 of our constitution have been able to stop these frightening incidents and trends. More than ten cases of rape and defilement among adults and minors have occurred every day for the last three years. Rape and defilement cases are more than one and half times more likely to occur than cases of economic crimes and corruption according to the 2018 Economic Survey. Yes, there is something more dangerous than the catastrophe of “Grabbiosis”. There has to be some discomfort also in recognising that taking children’s bodies by force, corruption and landgrabbing are all expressions of the abuse of power.

How we treated the case of Nairobi Moi Secondary School speaks volumes where we are as a society. There were the allegations of the Matron’s delayed responses to the student’s cries for help and then clumsy attempt to cover up the incident and bribe the students with bursaries. The refusal to allow parents to collect their children the morning after their trust was shattered. Then the confusion around the first medical examination that initially found the girls had not been raped and molested. Before investigations were even concluded, the National Disaster Management Unit, Nairobi County and armed police brought down 300 Toi market stalls 500 meters from the school. Their knee jerk and possibly opportunistic actions violated Government guidelines on forced evictions and resettlement.

The active engagement of parents and the Ministry to dissolve and elect new slate of Board of Governors and the Parents Association is welcomed. It remains to be seen whether the Education Ministry will pursue Head Teacher Jael Muriithi or her staff for probable maladministration after the Teachers Service Commission allowed her to proceed on early retirement. There must be consequences for that night of violence.

Other cases were reported also at Homa Bay’s Rusinga school and Nairobi’s Huruma Girls School. Moi Girls Kamusinga School Teacher Willy Wanyonyi and Mosa Mixed Secondary School Head Teacher Samuel Kimanzi found themselves in Bungoma and Kitui courts charged with rape and sexual assault this week as well. While their case to prove their innocence is ongoing, it is worth remembering that the Teachers Service Commission has deregistered 262 male teachers over the last three years.

Besides non-consensual sex, sex for marks, pocket money or mobile-phones is also prevalent in our schools. It also has to stop. The lack of safety in our 29,000 schools mirrors our broader society. It is unacceptable that in 2018, women in marriages, women and girls walking to toilets in our urban settlements or to fetching water in our rural villages risk sex based violence.

We must invest in building communities that understands violations and are ready to report and act on them. Rather than clearing away communities around our schools, we can invest in building in them also, monitoring capacity and vigilance to protect children. We have to empower our boys and girls to press for the truth to be known and action to be taken. Like the brave Moi Girls Secondary School girls, they have to know that their parents, alumni, civic organisations, media and their Government will protect them.

The new curriculum commits to creating empowered, ethical and engaged students, parents and school administrators. We can also learn from organisations like Amnesty’s human rights friendly schools and Ujamaa Africa’s Moment of Truth programs. Ujamaa Africa has successfully reduced cases of verbal harassment and rape by coaching boys to shift their sense of entitlement over female student’s bodies towards respect and protection. By building greater awareness, vigilance and a ready to report culture supported by safe complaint mechanisms, we can defeat rape in our schools and the wider society.

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