How Compassion Protects Children
Every child in Compassion’s program is loved, known and protected. How does this look in reality? In Kenya, it means staff help protect children by educating the community on sexual abuse and helping eradicate the stigma that victims endure.
02 Mar, 2016
Trigger warning: this contains content which may be confronting or distressing to some readers.
According to UNICEF, experiences of sexual violence in childhood hinder all aspects of development: physical, psychological and social.
Koki † was just nine years old when she experienced the unthinkable and was sexually assaulted by her 25-year-old neighbour. In her community in Kenya, sexual violence was rarely reported due to police corruption and stigma from the community. But with the support of Compassion, Koki’s story had a very different outcome.
We interviewed Compassion Kenya staff member Susan Rupia about how Compassion helped protect Koki and fight for justice, plus how they are pioneering child protection across Kenya.
How common is sexual violence and what is the community’s response?
Sexual violence has been a big problem. In the recent past it was rampant. It came about from the idea that if you have sex with a virgin, and you have HIV/AIDS, you get healed. That caused a lot of problems. Since the interventions of the church, the government, and non-government organisations like Compassion, [instances] are going down.
Now [rape] is being seen as a crime. They now have a gender violence desk in every police station. Things are beginning to change, but before that it would happen and go unreported. Most people would imagine that you’re the victim but actually you’re the one that caused it. So people would think it was your fault. People would look at you differently. In this community men are listened to more than women. So what a man says goes and what a lady says would not be accepted. This is beginning to change.
How unusual was it for Koki’s case to go all the way to court and for there to be a conviction?
Compassion takes child protection very seriously. In Koki’s case, her mother came with Koki to the Compassion centre to report it and they then took it to the police. We cannot allow such a case to be unreported or for the perpetrator to go scot free. We want everyone to understand children are meant to be protected. So Koki’s case was handled differently [to how the community would have treated it]. That’s why it took the long course of the law and the person was convicted and jailed. We hope it becomes the standard, that other families will see this is possible—that if they report it, action will be taken. Most people would now actually begin to fear and they would probably not even try to touch the children because they know they would get into real trouble.
What is the power of the child being known in Compassion’s programs?
In Kenya, once the child has been registered they have a uniform and they are seen as being part of this program [by the community]. People know they’re different so touching them or doing anything to them means that they would definitely get into trouble.
All Compassion staff are trained on child protection. They all have signed a child protection commitment. They know how to detect abuse, counsel and get medical and legal attention for the children as well as get a safe place for the children. Any child, whether they are a child from Compassion or even outside our program, we make sure action is taken simply because we know that children are to be protected.
The government now has telephone numbers anyone can call. Children are trained on what they should do when they are abused so even if their parent does it to them, they know there’s a number they can call and they’ll be attended to. The children know their rights as well.
How are the children taught about their rights?
Children in Compassion’s programs are taught on their rights for their protection. The teaching is age-appropriate. They are taught the different ways they can be abused and how to report when they are abused. The centres have posters and illustrations to help the children understand the importance of reporting any abuse.
How does Compassion work with caregivers to teach them about children’s rights?
Once the staff are trained, they train the children and they also train the caregivers. The caregivers come to the Compassion project once a month for training. They are trained on child protection. They know that if they abuse their own children they will be in trouble and if they abuse anybody else’s child they will be in trouble. So the Compassion staff know, the children know, the parents know, everybody knows.
How did you feel about Koki’s case?
It’s unthinkable. The important thing I would want to see is that the child is attended to and they would get healing out of that situation, and that they are able to grow up well. And even the perpetrator, yes, they could be jailed but they also need counselling to know what they did was wrong so they wouldn’t try something like that again. It’s something I wouldn’t want to happen to me so happening to a child is just, it’s bad. It’s really bad
What do you see as the future for Koki?
She still needs a mentor to walk along with her. The counselling should still continue so that even as she grows, she’s able to talk about it. The important thing is she may seem like she’s healing but unless she’s able to actually talk about it and not feel anything, only then can you say that she’s really healed. That’s going to take time because she’s still a child, she’s still doesn’t understand exactly what or why it happened to her.
As she grows she needs to be mentored. She’s only 13 now so by the time she leaves Compassion, we definitely have to make sure she’s completely healed, and she’s able to talk about it and help others who have gone through the same thing.
Help a child like Koki be known, loved and protected. Become a sponsor today.
† Name has been changed to protect identity.
About Susan Rupia
*Susan Rupia has worked for Compassion Kenya since 2003, first as an administrative assistant, and then as a tours and visits specialist. Susan describes herself as a God fearing lady who is outgoing, full of life and loves adventure. Her favourite scripture is ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’.
When speaking about her role at Compassion, Susan says “making a positive change in the lives of children and their families in Jesus’ name is very humbling and gratifying and I give God all the glory”.*
SOURCES: UNICEF,Hidden In Plain Sight 2014