Well, when I was asked to write this article, I thought to myself “ oh my, I could talk about this topic forever!”. So, since this is a large umbrella subject, I decided to refer to the most vulnerable group – children.
First things first.Just to be clear, according to the Kenyan law, a child, or a minor, is an individual below the age of 18. Once the child turns 18, that child is considered to be an adult. This is significant because many times adults feel that a minor is responsible enough to handle themselves, or even consent to certain matters, forgetting (or ignoring) that they are dealing with children, who need to be supervised through their journey of life.
In my line of work, I realized that most child victims I have interacted with ended up in trouble as a result of ignorance on the part of the parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, siblings, and that of the child themselves.
Another contributory factor is the trusting too much, too easily, too soon. While in all fairness, as humans we are inclined to trust at least those who are around us routinely, such as parents, siblings, teachers, nannies, cousins, uncles, aunties and colleagues,many times these are the very people NOT to trust. This is especially true where children are concerned.
Allow me to share a short story to illustrate a few points.
The other day I examined a 13 year old young lady who was repeatedly defiled by her father. Just in case you are wondering if this was a step dad, no, he wasn’t. She was defiled by her biological father, over a period of about 4 years. She reported that whenever her mother left for work and her father was at home, he would defile her. She had reported the matter to her mother on several occasions but her mother would beat her up at the very mention of the matter, accusing her of lying.
Eventually, one day, the little girl told her mother one last time, hoping that this time the mother would believe her and put an end to this. After all ,who else was she to turn to? Once again, the mother beat her until the neighbors came knocking. As the girl narrated her story to the neighbors, the parents ran away leaving her behind, and are still at large.
I don’t mean to scare any readers, but the reality is that there are many fathers, brothers, grandfathers, teachers, cousins, caregivers ( male and female) who defile our children right under our noses.
What measures can we take to protect our children?
As a parent, your no. 1 priority is to secure your child’s welfare in every way. Every child has a right to food, clothing, shelter, education and good health. Providing for and protecting children is a parent’s basic role and this must be done vigilantly.
Consider the following:
Who does your child spend time with when you are at work? What is their character? Who are your child’s friends? Who are their parents? What values do they instill in their child? What do these parents or other families spend time doing or watching on telly? Do you allow your child to visit with neighbors? Who are the occupants of that home? Have you interacted with them? What values have YOU instilled in your own child? Who lives in your own home besides immediate family? Have you spoken to your child about talking to strangers? Have you spoken to your child about his/ her body? Who is your child allowed to kiss besides mum and dad?
Some signs exhibited by a traumatised child include:
- Sudden withdrawal
- Sad, low or flat mood; anxiety
- Nightmares/ night terrors
- Enuresis ( bedwetting) in a child who had previously stopped
- Regressed milestones
- Loss of appetite
- Violent outbursts
- Strange gait
- Urine incontinence
- Stool incontinence
- Poor grades in school
- Withdrawal from friends
- Changes in behavior
- Child may not want you to bathe or touch certain parts of their body ( fractures, genital injuries)
One may also notice that their child’s behavior changes suddenly when a certain person is around or walks into the room.
Does your child seem unhappy after spending time with a particular person?
Sometimes toddlers scream and cry when they are left with certain people, even if it’s a nanny. Be observant and ask yourself if the crying is normal separation anxiety or is it something more?
QUALITY TIME WITH YOUR CHILD
Engage in interactive activities with your child, not watching telly or playing video games!
Bath time: One of the things I try and do frequently is bathing my son. Not only will this allow us to have fun and play, but it will also give me a full visual of his body to analyse any wounds or marks, or lack of them thereof. As you are washing your child, you can take note of any areas of tenderness (pain), wounds or even foreign material on the child’s body or genital region. The same goes for the child’s clothing, because as you undress your child, you can note any stains on their inner and outer clothing.
Playing outdoors with your child or simply being with them outside serves two purposes:
- Bonding time
- Opportunity to observe your child interact with other children/ neighbors.
If you notice wounds or marks on your child’s body, ask the guardian, be it a nanny at home or a teacher at school, how the wound got there or what they know about it. If the child can talk, ASK YOUR CHILD FIRST WHEN YOU ARE ALONE and in a relaxed environment. If a guardian seems indifferent or always says “I don’t know” or “he fell down” and this doesn’t seem in keeping with the wounds or child’s level of activity, act immediately! If in doubt, consult a counselor, doctor, or visit a medical facility for a checkup.
In the event that you notice strange marks on your child’s body or even blood or semen stains, please contact emergency services immediately. DO NO SHOWER/BATHE/CHANGE CLOTHES!
- For parents with young children, make surprise visits at home regularly and observe. What do you see? Is there any cause for concern or is your child happy? Playing? Sleeping?
- Where possible, invest in a nannycam.
- When nanny hunting, I personally prefer to conduct the interview with my son present. This way I can see how the potential nanny will respond to his cries or laughter or behavior. I find this very useful in selecting a nanny. Children have a way of being drawn to “nice” But the main reason is I get to see those who visibly cannot stand children. Some won’t even flinch when the child cries. Instantly eliminate those.
DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS
- Teach your child early not to talk to strangers, follow strangers, accept anything from strangers, and enter a stranger’s car EVER! The only exception is if YOU as the parent authorises this. My mother taught us that before we ate anything from anyone, except school or grandmas, that we had to seek her permission first! If we disobeyed, we were disciplined! We thought she was too fussy but now I am so grateful for all that ‘fuss’!
- For younger children, always have someone with them at all times, even if you are sending a driver or taxi to pick your child from school. Send a nanny to go along as well. If being dropped by a school bus, have someone you trust waiting for your child at the drop off point. If they are to walk home, then please organize for someone you trust to to be with them.
This could be your child. Would you want your child hurting in silence?
NB: Please if in doubt contact the police or child services for assistance. Feel free to send me an email to make any inquiries.