Yvonne Atieno, 13, knows too well what it means to live in slums where violence and child-abuse is rampant and an every-day occurrence. .The first born in a single-parent-family of four children, Atieno’s early years were full of various forms of child abuse at home, school and in the neighborhood.
“I used to be caned a lot at home and in school for either failing to do household chores or poor performance respectively. On our way to and from school, my fellow girls and I could also come across drunks who would assault us for failing to give them way along the crowded slum pavements.” Atieno says.
Many orphans and vulnerable children undergo various forms of abuse and rights violations. In urban slums, the abuses which vary from sexual harassment, child trafficking and child labour, are worsened by ignorance of the community about child rights which makes it difficult for children to survive and thrive.
However, for Atieno and other children at the Bethel Outreach Centre, which caters for more than 350 orphans and vulnerable children, life has changed for the better following a child rights protection programme that has been implemented at the center.
The project, funded by the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) aims at creating a safe environment for children at the centre and at home.
The initiative has a functional community system in place championing child protection in Gatwekera area, to enhance the level of awareness on child protection and help reduce child abuse cases.
The project’s coordinator, Mr. Benson Ayola, says the children have been made to understand their rights and are able to take charge of the change required in the community to ensure their rights are safeguarded.
“Children living in the slums are at a higher risk of being abused physically and psychologically even by the very people who are supposed to take care of them like guardians and teachers. In situations where the children are ignorant of their rights, it becomes very difficult for them to report any forms of violations to the authorities.” Says Ayola.
The project enlists the support of parents and teachers, who are recruited as paralegals and trained on child protection and are deployed to champion children’s rights in the community.
Child rights have also been incorporated in school related curriculum subjects so that pupils are able to conceptualize their rights at the classroom level and act as ambassadors of their own issues.
The children are also involved in drawing competitions and debates, which they use to highlight their plight and give ideas on what should be done to save them from the trap of rights violations by families and their communities.
“We also organize community outreach events through which the pupils use art forms like plays and skits to express themselves and create awareness about their rights while rallying the community to unite against child abuse.” Ayola explains.
The paralegals drawn from the school’s Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) representatives undergo trainings offered by the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Gender on child issues. The paralegals are tasked with monitoring suspected cases of child abuse in the community and counsel parents and children. In cases where the situations cannot be corrected, the paralegals report the violations to the authorities who apprehend and take the perpetrators to court for prosecution.
Ayola says through the project, cases of child rights violations have drastically reduced and children are able to learn in a peaceful and safe environment.
“We used to experience high school drop outs as a result of child rights violation both at home and in the neighborhoods. Today, our children have been empowered and are able to report any forms of violations against them which we take to the authorities for action.” Ayola says.
Ayola says the community now understands that the children know their rights and will not dare to engage in blatant abuse of these rights for fear of facing the consequences.
“Looking at the our records we find that academic performance has greatly improved and this can be partly attributed to the project as children can now study in a good environment and are able to speak out about issues affecting them in the community.” Ayola concludes