S.e.xual and gender-based violence in Kenya is on the rise despite efforts by the government to stem it.
The gains which were made in the fight against SGBV were reversed by the Covid-19 pandemic which saw lockdowns exert pressure on couples and other people living together.
East African Community regional GBV committee chairperson Masheti Masinjila said compared to past years, there has been progress in terms of legislation, policies and facilities in Kenya.
“But if you look at the data, the numbers are going up,” Masinjila said.
This was revealed on Friday when the EAC secretariat on GBV met in Mombasa to discuss plans to tackle the matter at a regional level.
The meeting, held at the Mombasa Continental Hotel in Shanzu for two days, brought together GBV champions from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan, among other partner states.
George Barasa Otieno, an officer in the State Department for EAC, said Kenya is the only country that has shown the highest level of commitment to ending GBV by issuing timelines not just to fight it but end it.
He said Kenya is doing much better than other EAC member states in addressing GBV.
“There is no member state that has had the commitment to fight GBV at a very high level like what we have in this country,” said Barasa.
“For me, having timelines to end GBV is a bold step in the region and we hope others can also take the cue and do the same.”
Uhuru has committed to end GBV cases by 2026. He has directed his administration to commit USD1.79 million (approximately Sh202 million) to the cause.
However, Barasa said since Covid-19 struck, cases have gone up to 80 per cent.
“When people are together, the conditions are such that the temptation to get into those adversarial human behaviour are inviting,” Barasa said.
“So it is very easy to find violence meted on the vulnerable. Those sexual offences happen. But as a country, we are moving in the right direction in terms of addressing them.”
The numbers have been growing per county, including Kakamega, Makueni, Kitui, among others, with underage girls getting pregnant.
“The good thing is that they got pregnant but almost all of them went back to school. That is what is important for us,” Barasa said.
He said becoming pregnant is not a death sentence for a child.
Flodine Aishakie, the director of women empowerment and girls promotion in the Burundian Ministry of National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender, said the country has made progress in the fight against GBV.
She said SGBV cases are fewer this year than last year.
Aishakie said this is because the Burundian government set up a whole state department to specifically address the SGBV in the country.
“All stakeholders put in efforts to fight SGBV,” she said.
The situation in South Sudan is heart-breaking.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, about 400,000 schoolgirls got pregnant and about 200,000 schoolboys got married.
This is according to Regina Osa Lulo, the director-general for gender, child and social welfare in the South Sudanese Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare.
“Some delivered while doing exams,” Osa said.
“For the boys, most of them impregnated girls and the girls’ parents forced them to marry.”
She said a lot of women in Juba, South Sudan, are the breadwinners in their families.
“Because of poverty, some parents decided to marry off their daughters to get money,” she said.
In Uganda, Covid-19 brought a disaster.
Overall, cases of GBV between January and June this year alone were over 17,000.
Out of these, slightly over 8,000 were sexual in nature, according to Akumu Christine Okot, the principal gender officer in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in Uganda.
She said a lot of violence was due to Covid-19 and lockdowns.
“The numbers increased because the children, who are vulnerable, are at home,” she said.
She reported that teenage pregnancies have gone up.
“In fact last year, during the time of lockdown, just within three months, we had, in a district, more than 3,000 cases of children aged between 13 and 17 getting pregnant,” Okot said.
Right now, the country is looking at how to get these children back to school in January next year.
In Uganda, schools remain closed.
“We have come up with a policy to make sure that these children are taken back to school because it wasn’t their own making that they became pregnant during this period,” Okot said.
The principal gender officer said their main priority is to ensure the children who have given birth and those who are expectant go back to school next year.
Masinjila, also an officer at Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development, which hosts the East African Civil Society Organisations Forum, said there is a need for regional partners to work more closely to fight GBV.
His sentiments were echoed by Generose Minani, the principal gender and community development officer at the EAC secretariat.
The secretariat had to come up with a special focus on GBV during the Covid-19 pandemic after partner states lamented increasing cases in their countries.
To get a solution, the EAC put in place a tool to collect data on the increase and proposed the formation of a regional GBV working group.
However, Minani said the major challenge is that the data collection is not as quick as would have been ideal.
“What we saw with this Covid-19 era is a new phenomenon experience. School dropout was so high. Girls were married either by themselves or by the parents to try and cope with the situation,” Minani said.
She said boys also ran away from their homes to look for something to survive on or get married.
She said the region needs to work more closely to fight GBV.
Minani said EAC governments need to be more committed to end GBV.
“Our governments have committed a lot to end it but actions are still wanting,” said Minani.
She said although there are many interventions, actions on the ground are not seen.
EAC secretariat is making efforts to ensure an implementable work plan is available so that the tools developed can be effective when thoroughly implemented.
“Otherwise, we can continue talking and at the end of the day there is no results. Our expectations are high,” Minani said.