At seven years, Maya Angelou was raped by her mother’s lover. She mentioned his name, and later found that he had been kicked to death. Maya did not speak for five years, because her seven year old mind thought that by speaking, she caused a man’s death.
Many children suffer in silence at the hands of trusted people. They feel helpless, and not able to report any form of abuse because they lack safe spaces to do so. Oftentimes, a perpetrator of child abuse might threaten the child, or inflict fear, causing their victims to remain mum about an act of abuse. This in turn leaves the child in an emotional mess, as they try to forget the abuse.
Childline Kenya is an NGO that works to stop child abuse and provide a safe environment for all children. They do this via an emergency toll free national helpline which is monitored 24 hours a day, the National Child Helpline is 116 and the Whatsapp number is 0799873107. They also provide a chat feature on their website.
Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and emotional abuse.
You may be abusing your child unknowingly
All children are unique with their own capabilities. It is therefore emotionally damaging for a child to hear their parent comparing them to their siblings. Whether it is in school performance or at home in general, it might end up in emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is the most common form of child abuse especially in Africa.
Warning signs of an abused child.
Children pass subtle messages by different things, some of which you might miss if you don’t pay attention.
Withdrawn- Most often, children who have gone through abuse retreat and suddenly they are not as social as they were before. Some children would be shy to maintain eye contact. They may be thinking that everyone who looks at them knows the shameful story of their abuse.
Stunted development- Children have developmental milestones which they ought to hit at certain points in time. However, some react to abuse by slow mental or physical development. A simple way to tell this is when your child maintains friendships with children much younger than her.
Reduced school grades-A child who before may have been performing well, may suddenly lose interest in school work, thereby significantly reducing their school performance.
Fear- This is two pronged. First, a child may fear the parent so much that they them as much as possible. This indicates that maybe the parent has overdone the disciplinarian role and it has spilled over to abuse. This leads to no bonding time between the child and the parent. This brings the second perspective: a child who is not free to talk to his/her parents, may suffer in silence when they face abuse because they keep to themselves.
Statistics by the Child Helpline shows that 90% of child abusers are people trusted by children including teachers, family members, religious leaders, neighbors and domestic workers. Sadly, majority of Kenyans do not know the extent of child abuse in the country nor what to do in case it happens.
Maya Angelou read books in the five years of silence. She became a phenomenon poet and a writer. Most children in Africa do not have an outlet for their suffering. We can give them a voice.
Childline Kenya, which has been operational for 10 years, recently launched the “Shine a light campaign”, that calls on the public to shine a light on cases of child abuse. You can take part in this campaign by donating any amount on their website. Your support goes a long way in sustaining the child helpline, facilitating the referral network and funding data collection on child protection in Kenya. Together we can end the cycle of abuse, and create safer spaces for our children.