In the week of the International Day for Innocent Child Victims of Aggression, our first guest blog comes from child protection expert Isabel Mwangi, who graduated as a lawyer from the University of Nairobi in 2009 and currently works as the Child Protection and Family Support Programme Officer for Kesho.
In 2013, Stars Foundation recognised Kesho's work on education in Kenya and the tailor-made support they provide to parents and children. Kesho are well placed to provide insight on the Kenyan education system, as we hear from Isabel on the issue of child protection in schools.
At Kesho, we take a grassroots approach to achieve our goal: for vulnerable children to access education, and step by step, come to find meaningful employment or enterprise. First we listen – to children, their families, teachers and communities – before taking appropriate actions that are supportive, relevant, long-term and holistic.
Recently, while listening to teachers and children as part of our survey of child abuse and child protection in Kenya, ('Our Children Matter'), we heard painful stories and learned that children in Kenya lack child protection structures in schools.
Children in Kenya spend most of their waking hours in school, under the supervision of an over-stretched teaching force. 43% of the country's population is under 15-years-old, and 40% of these children are classed as requiring special care and protection. But there are simply no government requirements for child protection policies (CPPs) in schools.
Surprised? We were. Surprised enough, in fact, to want to look for a solution.
Schools in Kenya are the second most common location for child abuse. Once our dialogue with teachers and children began, we found our concerns were shared and expressed openly. We report here a small part of the range of child protection issues raised.
Corporal punishment, though illegal, is widespread and for 91% of Kenyan children it is the normal form of discipline (UNESCO 2001 Report). It includes caning, slapping, pinching and public humiliation. It is used to maintain class discipline, to punish children who have performed poorly in their academics and for late arrival to school. Most Kenyan teachers argue that without corporal punishment, schools would descend into chaos. Teacher training does not include the effectiveness of alternative forms of discipline.
Learning institutions have gradually gained notoriety as avenues of sexual abuse, but the statistics are unreliable and abuse often only reported if it results in pregnancy. Boys also suffer, but in silence – not a single boy reported a sexual abuse matter in the whole of Kilifi County last year. Children fall prey to the promises and gifts offered by the teacher, exchanging food, money for tampons, or the promises of better grades, for sex.
"When a teacher in school sees you are always hungry, they will give you money for lunch and in exchange you have sex with them. Some girls have become pregnant and dropped out of school because of these teachers and the men they have sex with." 15-year-old girl, Kilifi (Plan International, Because I am a Girl - Kenya Country Report 2012)
There is considerable and growing evidence that bullying is common place in Kenyan schools. Reported incidents are often not taken seriously and considered 'part of school life' and of growing up. Children suffer with no place to seek protection.
Teachers acknowledge the crucial role they play in identifying, reporting and preventing child abuse. They have close and consistent contact with children and in some instances children will disclose abuse happening to them at school or at home. Many teachers want to help, but even the 'Guidance and Counseling Teachers', said that they didn’t have the training to know how to meet the counseling needs of the child, nor did they understand the system within school or outside, to make effective referrals.
With correct information, skills and engagement, teachers can play an integral role in preventing and responding to child abuse. Over the next two years Kesho will undertake a participatory approach towards developing and implementing a School Child Protection Policy in two schools with careful documentation of the process so a model can be shared. The Policy would include the following elements:
Children are well protected by the laws of Kenya which are internationally recognised. The difficulties arise in their implementation. The Constitution of Kenya, Children Act, Basic Education Act and the Teachers’ Code of Conduct will inform the Child Protection Policy template, but positive change requires the will, the investment and the policies at all levels of the educational system.
By documenting the process and engaging other organisations and relevant government ministries to lobby lawmakers, we hope to see Child Protection Policies become a mandatory document for all private and public schools in Kenya to ensure that our children are indeed safe while in school.