NAROK, Kenya — Government officials from Narok County, situated along the Great Rift Valley in the southwest area of Kenya, are choosing to focus their efforts on child abuse.
Despite Kenya’s explicit protection of children in the country’s Bill of Rights, Narok County continues to have one of the highest rates of child abuse nationwide. Additionally, in Article 53 of Kenya’s constitution, children have been given the right to “free and compulsory basic education, basic nutrition, shelter, clothing, health, and parental care and protection.”
According to County Children Officer Julius Ngoko, his office receives a minimum of five child abuse cases every day.
Ngoko said that the forms of abuse his office investigates range from mental and emotional abuse to physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect when guardians fail to provide children’s’ basic needs.
Ngoko pointed out that poverty is largely correlated with high rates of child abuse. Because poverty is on the rise in Narok County, so are incidences of child abuse.
Many citizens of Narok County are cattle farmers, relying on rain fed subsistence as their only means of income. When rain fails, many farmers cannot care for their children and send them to work on the farm or to earn money somewhere else, rather than sending them to school.
This practice is a form of child abuse, as defined by the Kenyan government.
One other factor contributing to child labor is the high rate of domestic violence and family break ups, leaving one parent to shoulder all of the financial responsibility. Many parents employ their children instead of sending them to school just to make ends meet.
Ngoko raised serious concerns about Kenyan customs that have traditionally harmed children under the guise of a rite of passage.
“Outdated cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early forced marriages, premature pregnancy and moranism also pose a great threat to children, as most of them are denied the right to education by their parents in order to get married or marry,” Ngoko said.
A high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in adult populations may also lead some parents to find suitable homes for their children by way of early marriage, Ngoko added.
The Narok County ministry is working to educate the public on children’s rights in the county and minimize cases of child abuse by raising awareness about the issue. The programs they are carrying out seek to inform traditionalists about the negative effects of FGM, early marriage and early pregnancies.
Ngoko said his administration has already seen reform as a result of these education measures.
Ngoko’s administration is educating newlyweds on the benefits of family planning in an effort to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The government is also setting aside special funds to care for orphans in the county.
Ngoko is hopeful about his administration’s work and thinks ending child abuse and supporting children’s rights is critical for the growth of his community.
“Children have a right to live freely like any other person,” Ngoko said. ” The government will not sit back and watch parents deny children their rights.”
– Paige Frazier
Sources: Kenya News Agency, Narok.go, WIPO
Photo: Child Fund