Children at greatest risk of sexual violence in Kenya during pandemic

A study of sexual violence in Kenya during the Covid-19 pandemic shows that children are more likely than adults to be attacked by someone they know and that incidents are more common during the day in the aggressor’s home.

The results underline the need for plans to combat sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in times of national emergency in order to minimize the risk and increase protection.

The study, published in BMJ Open, is based on interviews with 541 survivors of sexual violence who sought help from human rights defenders during the pandemic. Of these, 224 were children with an average age of 12 years, most of them female.

The analysis of the interviews showed that children were attacked 1.6 times more often during the day and 1.7 times more often in private spaces than in public spaces. In addition, children were most likely to be harassed by neighbors, followed by strangers and family members. Adults, on the other hand, were more likely to be victims of strangers, followed by acquaintances, members of the local community, or spouses.

Based on the results, the research team made a series of recommendations for political decision-makers to adequately address SGBV risks in future national crisis policies. These include:

  • Use constituency funding to provide alternative safe rooms and housing when schools are closed
  • Providing more community facilities to show educational films and social activities
  • Expand and support neighborhood watch groups in the community that focus on safety issues
  • Improve data collection and analysis to investigate regional trends, identify and monitor SGBV hotspots or serial offenders, and monitor the availability of support services
  • Use data to educate people about SGBV, including signs of abuse.
  • Establish a national register of sex offenders to alert communities to high-risk offenders

Co-lead researcher Sarah Rockowitz, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology, said, “War, conflict and legislative periods continue to cause further damage around the world, including sexual and gender-based violence. Measures to limit population movement during the pandemic may have helped contain the spread of the disease, but they also appear to be jeopardizing the safety of citizens.

Wangu Kanja of the Wangu Kanja Foundation, who co-led the project, said: “Kenya has a long history of sexual and gender-based violence and we urge policy makers to ensure that risk reduction measures are incorporated into national crisis policies. In addition, we need to change the SGBV narrative to be understood as a crime and gross violation of human rights. Governments must provide funding for programs and interventions to initiate this cultural change. “

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