As the country deals with the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a shocking increase in the number of sexual offences cases reported.
Many countries are reporting a surge in cases of domestic and sexual violence, also known as gender-based violence (GBV), as well as violence against children.
Kenya is following this trend because a third of all crimes reported since COVID-19 arrived were related to sexual violence.
Self-isolation for women in coercive or violent relationships means being trapped (often without the means of accessing support) with a perpetrator who may become more abusive when there is no other outlet.
Over the past two weeks, sexual offences such as rape and defilement have constituted more than 35% of all reported cases in Kenya.
Coincidentally, many Kenyans have been working from home over the past two weeks, with many students being home from learning institutions as well.
A 7 p.m to 5 a.m curfew has also been imposed since Friday, March 27.
There has been a significant spike in sexual offences in many parts of Kenya in the last two weeks. These offences constitute 35.8% of the criminal matters reported during the period.
In some cases, unfortunately, the perpetrators of such offences are close relatives, guardians or persons living with the victims.
These are people who are supposed to take care of the young girls, but instead, they are preying on them.
Different people who work on gender-based violence have voiced their concerns that some of these directives are creating a fertile ground for this to happen.
The United Nations and the Government of Kenya launched a flash appeal this month, seeking $267 million to respond to the most immediate needs of over 10 million people during the pandemic.
Of this amount, $4.2m is needed to provide life-saving medical treatment, psycho-social support and legal representation in relation to violence against children and GBV.
The gaps in violence prevention and response existed in Kenya before COVID-19. This crisis magnifies these gaps as resources and access to services become even more strained.
Reasons why there is a spike in sexual offences and gender-based violence.
- To begin with, the pandemic has affected a lot of people’s ability to earn a daily wage, many people depend on their daily income to provide for their families and this causes frustration. Some of them vent out their frustrations through gender-based violence.
- People’s freedom of movement has been curtailed. They can’t go to bars, clubs or other social joints so they resort to drinking at home. Alcohol can also be a trigger for gender-based violence.
- We must also remember that children are at home and not all of them are home with their parents. Some are being taken care of by their guardians, relatives or living at facilities such as children’s homes. They are confined in the same closed areas with their guardians, you don’t know what could happen.
- An issue that is overlooked is that women and girls are also unable to access reproductive health services. Lockdowns and lack of prioritization of SGBV response services mean many women will face forced pregnancies. In turn, restricted access to abortion care facilities or pharmacies that provide medical abortions (i.e. misoprostol pills that can be taken at home) if quarantine periods are extended may lead to unsafe abortions and increased mortality among SGBV survivors
What is the UN and Government of Kenya doing about Gender-Based Violence?
- The UN’s rights-based response to COVID-19 includes strengthening and increasing the availability of essential GBV services. To address restricted access to services during isolation, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has collaborated with the Kenya Red Cross Society to sustain clinical management of sexual violence supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) in all humanitarian hubs in the country.
- UNICEF is working with Kenya’s Department of Children’s Services to continue to provide case management services for girl and boy survivors of violence against children.
- UN Women, UNFPA and UNICEF are working closely with Kenya’s national child and GBV hotlines, to increase psychosocial support through telephone and chat counselling services. These are often first responders to survivors of domestic violence or violence against children and their role cannot be understated. Data from these helplines are already informing the government’s national response. Assistance is also being given to the Ministry of Health to develop GBV guidelines during COVID-19.
- Public awareness-raising, especially for those most at risk, will be rolled out to promote rights and services. Public engagement is also crucial for prevention, which is why the UN agencies will identify male champions to promote respectful relationships and encourage others to refrain from violence.
As Protect A Girls Image Organization, we are trying our best to raise awareness on all levels, for instance, there should be a toll-free helpline for victims of gender-based violence.
If you are assaulted by your spouse at night right now, you can’t leave the house because you’re scared you’ll be beaten up even before you get to the police station to report the matter.
You know, femicide has been an issue in Kenya even before the Coronavirus, so these are things that the government and Nonprofit Organizations should just do. Relevant bodies like the judiciary and police should also communicate and share crucial information.
It Is important for authorities to create public awareness of how victims could report cases and receive the necessary assistance.
We need to raise awareness on these issues just like the government is raising awareness on the virus, what measures to take and so on. You know, right now, the situation is difficult.
It is clear from previous epidemics that during health crises, women typically take on additional physical, psychological and time burdens as caregivers. As such, it is critical that all actors involved in efforts to respond to COVID-19 – across all sectors – take GBV into account within their programme planning and implementation.
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