When children with disability suffer indignities from adults
By Beryl Okundi
At a leafy hotel in Hurlinghum, two children huddle in a corner playing. Oblivious of the onlookers, they run around laughing, lost in their own little world where words are meaningless.
The girl, Mueni, is 14 and the boy Kitavi, is three. One would think they are siblings consumed by the excitement of childhood.
But looks can be deceiving. The two are mother and child.
“These are my grandchildren and I have been taking care of them. Most of the people confuse them to be my children but they are not. I am their grandmother,” says Mwende (not her real names) their grandmother.
She requests that their identities, including hers, be kept a secret for fear of societal ridicule and stigma associated with families that have battled the dragon of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).
Mwende explains that Kitavi was born as a result of her granddaughter Mueni being sexually abused by her school principal in Kitui. Mueni gave birth to Kitavi in September 2015 at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) through caesarian section.
Mueni who is mentally challenged used to go to a special school in Kitui but she has since dropped out following the traumatic ordeal.
“I remember receiving a call from the school matron informing me that the schools were closed and I should come and pick up Mueni. On arrival, I was shocked to find that she had on extra clothing around her stomach. Shortly after we arrived home in Machakos, I asked her to remove the extra clothes around her stomach and that is when I realised that she was pregnant since she had a protruding navel. Interestingly, the matron had tried to convince me that it was only a case of ‘minyoo’ (stomach worms) to which I strongly objected,” she said.
Mwende immediately called Mueni’s father who lived in Nairobi and informed him of what had happened. He would later send them fare to come to Komarock estate where he lived.
“The next morning, I took Mueni to KNH where she was tested and it was confirmed that she was four months pregnant at the time,” said Mwende.
“Upon probing she (Mueni) told me it was the head teacher who had violated her. I could not believe it. How could the very person entrusted with her safety turn into a heartless sexual predator?” posed Mwende.
Mueni has not been able to go back to school after childbirth.
“Whenever she in a school environment her mood changes and she becomes uneasy. She is afraid that whatever happened to her might happen again,” says Mwende with a shaky voice, as she wipes tears flowing down her cheeks.
Another SGBV victim identified as Patrick (not his real name) who is mentally challenged was sodomised by a neighbour in Bahati Estate in 2014.
“I used to work at a brick site and one day my neighbour approached me and asked me to help him carry bricks into his house. He, however, trapped me in his house and did the unimaginable to me. It was awful,” says Patrick with disdain written all over his face.
His sister explains that he took a while to report the case to the police but the culptit was arrested once he did, only to be released on bail.
Mueni and Patrick are victims of a vice that continues to gnaw its teeth at society’s fabric leaving casualties in its wake. On the day of the interview, they had joined other SGBV victims in a briefing meeting by the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW). COVAW is a human rights lobby group that also offers free legal services in search for access to justice for SGBV victims. It relies on Pro-bono lawyers to represent them in court.
COVAW executive director, Wairimu Munyinyi-Wahome explains that it is easy to take advantage of persons with disabilities because their conditions make them vulnerable to attack. She notes that in most cases, the perpetrators of such acts are mostly people known to the victims including neighbours, family friends or even family members. The most vulnerable group also happens to be children below the age of 18 years. “Sadly, the younger the girl or boy is, the more vulnerable they are. Most of the time, the children are left without care because the parents have to choose between staying at home and feeding their families by going to work and that is when they are abused,” says Ms Wahome.
“Myths and incest are also other contributing factors. For instance some people believe that if you sleep with a young girl you will be cured of HIV/Aids or you will get rich,” she adds.
As of 2018, COVAW had 11 cases in court where they were representing SGBV victims. The human rights lobby group has won two cases of defilement so far, in Narok and Kiambu where the perpetrators were sentenced to 20 years in jail. In both cases, the victims were minors with intellectual disability.
The 2009 National Population Census report shows the number of persons living with disabilities at about 1.3 million.
According to statistics from the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) 45 per cent of women between ages 15–49 years in Kenya have experienced either physical or sexual violence with women and girls accounting for 90 per cent of the gender-based violence cases reported. One in five Kenyan women (21 per cent) has experienced sexual violence.
Data relayed by a survey conducted by COVAW in 2013 further indicates that 60.3 per cent of 51 participants in the survey, who are women and girls with intellectual challenges, had been exposed to sexual and gender-based violence.
Evans Kaimenyi, a pro-bono lawyer who represents victims under COVAW, cites challenges such as interference with witnesses and court evidence, trauma of victims who have to be exposed to the perpetrators during hearing of cases, change of prosecutors and police intimidation as the main deterrents to justice.
Kaimenyi cites a case he lost in Nyahururu as a typical example of the hurdles they face.
It was a gang-rape incident involving a 24-year-old intellectually disabled girl from Ol Kalou, Nyahururu. She had been tricked by a female neighbour (the third accused) to accompany her to a friend’s house. The two used a boda boda guy (the fourth accused) to their destination where two men raped the victim.
“Medical examination results presented to court indicated that indeed, the victim’s hymen was torn and that sexual intercourse had occurred. This was however not enough to convince the judge,” said Kaimenyi who now considers himself a battle-hardened activist.
Moreover, the boda boda rider who was the fourth accused person confessed having ferried the girl and her neighbour to the scene of the act but the court did not take that into consideration either when giving a ruling.
“The police also claimed that the DNA test results got lost and they also failed to conduct an identification parade as required when dealing with such cases,” said Kaimenyi.
“The case collapsed due to the missing DNA report. It’s surprising that the police and doctor witness accounts were not good enough for us to win the case and serve the victim justice,” he added. The grounds for the judgement, he said, were that the police were not diligent enough when investigating the case, the court was not able to tie the third accused to the crime and the female neighbuor who was the fourth accused died before the ruling.
COVAW now wants the government to ensure that police are trained on how to take testimonies from intellectually disabled persons, especially victims. They also want the penal code changed and empowered to protect the victims of sexual and gender based violence.
“The penal code currently refers to the victims as imbeciles which is very derogatory and should be re-looked into,” he said.