How the conspiracy of silence from families costs victims of child abuse

child crying

Belinda Magara has been living in Saudi Arabia for the last ten years without stepping foot in Kenya even for the holidays. In an online interview with AfroMum, Belinda who works as a househelp narrates how she left home as soon as she was eighteen years because Home had not been good to her and sister after being orphaned at the ages of ten and five respectively.

When she turned 5, Belinda’s sister Diana was sexually abused repeatedly by their paternal uncle who was also their primary caregiver. He would call her and take her into one of the empty houses in the compound when everyone else was away for work or school and proceeded to rape her. He threatened her with dire consequences if she dared to reveal what was happening to anyone else.

This would go on for some time until one day when she could not take it anymore and confided in her older sister Belinda. They broke the silence to their extended family but instead of getting support as expected from their aunties, all they got was serious condemnation.

“They blamed us for being selfish and seeking to destroy the family and the life of their only remaining brother. Nobody wanted to listen to us and although opinion was divided, those who took our uncle’s side won and the case never saw the light of day,” said Belinda.

With crushed spirits, the two children ran away from home and went on to live with other relatives – a move that made it quite difficult for Belinda to finish her studies. Diana was lucky to find a relative willing to help her complete her education and also take care of her medical needs.

“We have never gone back home and I have never talked to my aunties in ten years. That is why I am holed up here in Saudi Arabia. I have nowhere to call home,” said Belinda.

When asked if her sister ever got any professional help Belinda says Diana never got any help and that has caused so much bitterness in her sister that she never wants to hear anything about home or extended relatives. She also dislikes men and keeps to herself as a recluse.

It was not until an elderly grandmother stepped in to help her and even live with her that she started opening up and became a bit friendly. She is, however, still quite bitter about the whole situation.

When it comes to child abuse, it is still unfortunate that so many families choose to protect the perpetrators of such incidents at the expense of the victim.

According to Psychology Today, Child abuse often results from physical, emotional, or sexual harm. Normally, child abuse takes the form of harmful actions but there are instances where inactions such as neglect can also cause harm to a child.

In some households, alcoholism/substance abuse, as well as anger issues, are the leading causes of child abuse. Child abuse can cause both long term and short term injuries or death. There are some children who may be unaware that they are victims of child abuse.

The Daily Nation reports that in Kenya, Nairobi County was leading with the number of child abuse cases in the country and that some of the causes of the high number of cases were lenient punishments for the perpetrators, more ways of luring children into their traps lack of awareness, parents shying away from talking to their children darkness in the slums and so on.

In the same report it is documented that as of 2018, strangers accounted for 44% of perpetrators of child abuse while neighbors accounted for 22% and finally family accounted for 7%. It is also reported that the home accounted for 22% of the cases making it the most insecure place for our children to live. They remain afraid of exposing for several reasons. 

Kapsotik village Nyumba Kumi chairman Mr. Ainea Liyengwa while speaking to us noted that incidents of abuse had also increased in the villages but instead of taking matters to the authorities, the perpetrators of the vices were taken to the village elders where they sometimes get away with just a slap on the wrist depending on how popular, respected or rich your family is at the village level.

Some parents shield their children and will never corroborate what their daughter-in-law is saying about the abusive nature of their beloved son to children.

In some instances, the matter will be reported to the chief or the police but the wife of the abuser will not come to testify in court. Some go out of their way to have the charges dropped, much to the chagrin of the people who initially helped with the case. This is a common scenario in Uganda as well.

“A man will be arrested for abuse or neglect of children who have not gone to school but the next day the wife will go and have all charges dropped against him. She will not even leave any room for arbitration despite the police in Uganda being good at arbitrating family matters with a view of getting a solution. Such mothers do not see a life without their partners and also fear that the burden of providing for the family will fall squarely on them. Unless they see things differently the children really suffer,” said Dr. Emilio Ovuga, a veteran psychologist.

So where does this leave our children? Not only have they been betrayed by the abuse meted upon them by people they should love but they remain stuck in such a toxic environment with their tormentors always around. Lawful action needs to be taken and the abused needs to be effectively separated from the perpetrator. Only then can a child start to walk their way upwards towards recovery. Abuse of children leads to depression, isolation, suicide and they turn out to be abusers themselves.

Childline Kenya is an entity that has partnered with the government to fight child abuse and one way through which you can help stop the conspiracy of silence is by using the toll-free helpline 116 to report any incidents of child abuse in your area.

Here are the warning signs of rape/sexual abuse in a child.

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