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Safe Blog

Groundbreaking data tells a story of violence in Kenya, and leads to 7 acts that reduced it by half

4th December 2023

In 2010, Kenya's first national Violence Against Children and Youth Survey revealed alarming statistics about the prevalence of physical, sexual, and emotional violence among boys and girls. The findings were shocking. But a decade later the data told a different story. The power of data-driven action at a national level was proven for the first time, uncovering the efficacy of interventions to protect at-risk children.

The first VACS of 2010 reported that over 80% of boys and girls experienced one or more forms of violence. Even more concerning was that only about one-third of boys and two in five girls disclosed these incidents to someone. And among those who did confide in someone, the level of support received was dishearteningly low, with only 2% of boys and 3% of girls getting the needed assistance.

Fast forward to 2019, when a second national VAC survey was conducted, asking similar questions to a comparable group of children.

There was a glimmer of hope. The survey indicated a reduction in the overall prevalence of violence, with fewer than 60% of children reporting experiencing at least one form of violence.

This indicated positive progress in curbing violence across all categories.

So what happened?

How was this reduction in violence prevalence achieved?

before 2010 – the start of the journey
Image credit: The New Humanitarian

In 2007 Kenya was engulfed in a wave of communal violence that erupted after the disputed election. The impact of this violence was particularly severe on women and children, enduring weeks of turmoil and fear.

Although the official commission of inquiry into the post-election violence estimated around 900 cases of sexual violence; this figure underestimated the true extent due to survivors' reluctance to report, the stigma surrounding sexual violence in Kenya, and the pervasive fear of retaliation.

Stories from Human Rights Watch: “I Just Sit and Wait to Die” - Reparations for Survivors of Kenya’s 2007-2008 Post-Election Sexual Violence

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Cheptoo M., a blind woman, displays her walking cane. She was raped together with her younger sister by two General Service Unit officers at their home in a slum in Nairobi. Her husband became verbally abusive following the rape and eventually left her. Cheptoo is also living with HIV. She is raising her own child and four children of her sister who died in 2013, with no family support.
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83-year-old Thomas N. was attacked by a group of youth in January 2008. They beat and gang raped his two daughters who have since died from health problems associated with the rape. Thomas is taking care of some of his grandchildren. The attackers also beat him badly, breaking almost all his teeth, and cracking his skull, to force him to rape his daughters. They then gang raped him. He has received money from the government that enabled him to buy land and build a house, but he has chronic health problems since the attack.
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Kamene F. stands outside her house in a slum in Nairobi with her 7-year-old son born from rape. Kamene stopped attending school after the rape. The registration office refused to issue her son with a birth certificate and demanded that Kamene provide the name of the father, whom she does not know. Kamene is also raising her young sister whose rape was so violent it left her with a brain injury – she faints often and cannot use a toilet, feed herself, or go to school. Their family abandoned them when they learned of the rapes.

Image credits: 2015 Samer muscati/Human Rights Watch

Women's and children's rights groups and concerned citizens began advocating for interventions that would effectively prevent and respond to violence against women and children.

Their advocacy played a crucial role in the inclusion of a dedicated section in the 2010 Constitution, acknowledging the paramount importance of safeguarding children from harm. These pivotal developments set the stage for a renewed commitment to protect and support women and children in Kenya, ushering in a new era of addressing violence against them.

Transformative data - the catalyst for change
Credit: UNICEF from Kenya National Action Plan 2019-2023

The Kenyan government was driven by a growing interest to end violence against children, and its need for evidence-based programming and resource allocation.

In 2010, Kenyan conducted its first Violence Against Children and Youth Survey, becoming the third country globally to do so. This survey provided groundbreaking data into the prevalence, nature, and consequences of violence experienced by children in the country, catalyzing action.

"That first survey was a big eye opener to the government. It raised a lot of attention on violence prevention and response, and more investments- time and resources - came in from donors, governments and NGOs."

The findings from the 2010 VACS were alarming. There was an urgent need for a comprehensive approach to combat violence against children. As its strategic framework, the Government of Kenya developed a cross-sectoral National Response Plan.

This NRP prompted a swift expansion of initiatives to enhance the legal, policy, and service delivery frameworks for the prevention and response of violence against children, between 2010 and 2019.

And it worked.

Data from Kenya's second VACS in 2019 shows that the coordinated and holistic implementation of key strategies, policies, and programs did in fact address violence against children effectively.

In particular, the prevalence of any lifetime sexual violence experienced by 18-24 year olds had been reduced by at least half (see graph. Although the persistent sexual violence experienced by adolescent girls remained a critical challenge requiring focused intervention).

What worked?

1. Evidence-based services to prevent violence against children

Access to basic services expanded and the government and partners underwent a significant shift in thinking. They recognized the importance of reaching a larger audience with prevention programs to maximize their impact. To achieve this, their innovative approach included integrating interventions into existing, wide-reaching HIV programs.

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DREAMS ambassador, Vivian, poses for a photo during World Menstrual Health Day event

In 2015, the introduction of PEPFAR's DREAMS programme marked a pivotal moment as its substantial funding for large-scale HIV prevention and treatment initiatives focused on preventing violence against children. These DREAMS programmes were implemented through various partnerships, including LVCT Kenya, across the country.

During one year, in the county of Juja alone, LVCT's implementation of the DREAMS program helped over 3,500 girls to transition from primary school to secondary school, supported 2,500 girls with vocational training, and mentored 1,000 local businesses.

DREAMS not only empowered high-risk girls with HIV education, but also strengthened families with parental support:

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Religious leader gives graduates a tree to plant, to symbolize birth of a new season and growth for the next year. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

Nya, 23

I’m a DREAMS graduate. I participated in the programme for about 4 years and learnt about sex, condoms, and how to be HIV-safe. DREAMS helped me with my school fees and classes on financial capability: how to save, how to open an account, and aid in acquiring a loan. DREAMS really supported me so much until I was able to open my hotel in Juja town. Financially I can say I am stable because I have a little money myself and I have employed a number of people. Thank you so much for enabling me to get to this point.

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Baraka, 21

For those who have gone through the DREAMS programme the violence has reduced. Even my sisters are in the programme. The classes on HIV prevention and protection helped them. They say their experiences have been good and they've really developed, you can easily note the changes before they joined the programme and after.

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Adolescent girls pose for a group photo during a Menstrual health Walk at Kiandutu DREAMS. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health

Zuwena, 57

DREAMS pays for two of my girls to be in secondary school, so the money I earn can go to feeding my other children. I always talk to my children openly, DREAMS taught me that when I notice anything strange in my children I should and not hide anything from them. I have noticed positive changes in them. I tell them “ if you get pregnant you will have to stay home and take care of the baby and you know the life of poverty we live in so you strive hard in education so that you can succeed in life.”

Integrating smaller scale services into the government had compound impact:

Child Helpline is a toll-free facility available 24/7 to support children facing challenging situations or in need of someone to talk to.

Initially established by Child Helpline Kenya, it has now become an integral part of the government’s workplan through the Department of Children Services.

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Significant progress was also achieved through expanding the Kenya Social and Economic Inclusion Project.

These schemes improved poverty levels and included programs such as the Cash Transfer to Orphaned and Vulnerable Programme, the Hunger Safety Nets Programme for vulnerable households in the arid and semi-arid lands area, the Urban Food Subsidy Programme for vulnerable urban households, and the Cash Transfer Programme to Persons with Severe Disabilities.

While the primary focus of these programs was poverty reduction, evidence suggests that the implementation of certain economic strengthening programs, such as the Cash Plus program on a larger scale, also contributed to the reduction of violence against children.

2. Strengthened legal & policy frameworks:

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In a primary school class teaching a young girls’ savings club how to save money.

Between 2010 and 2019, Kenya witnessed significant progress in developing and implementing legal and policy frameworks to combat violence against children.

One pivotal milestone was the introduction of the 2010 National Children's Policy, which provided crucial guidance and a legal framework for safeguarding children's rights. This marked the start of child rights clubs in schools where children could understand what rights were and that they had them.

The Basic Education Act in 2013 was another remarkable achievement, as it made education free and compulsory for all children.

The Ministry of Education established the National School Safety Framework between 2014 and 2016 to address school-related violence and ensure the safety of students.

Gladways Community Center PEPFAR DREAMS Kenya

The amendment of the Sexual Offences Act in 2016 triggered significant advancements across multiple sectors. This included providing specialized training to healthcare providers, and waiving hospital fees for survivors as required by the Act's regulations.

As a result child protection units were established in police stations, where children brought in late at night could find a safe space until morning. The inclusion of gender desks ensured that violence against children cases would be handled efficiently, even when specific officers were unavailable.

A judicial milestone included the enforcement of using post-rape care as admissible evidence in court due to limited DNA forensic labs. Guidelines on child-friendly justice were also created so that children could fully participate in legal proceedings, receive fair treatment, and access justice sensitively to their needs.

3. Strengthened workforce to deliver prevention of violence against children services:

Between 2013-2018, the government bolstered the workforce's capacity to deliver comprehensive prevention and response services across relevant sectors.

Under this strategy an adequate number of staff was dedicated to violence against children prevention services at both national and county levels. They were equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to implement quality services in accordance with national guidelines.

Service providers were trained from various sectors, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to respond effectively to violence survivors.

The Ministry of Education implemented the Beacon Teachers program, which equipped teachers in primary schools across the county to identify signs of violence, support affected children, and foster a safe atmosphere within schools. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Health expanded training for service providers in public health facilities across the country, enhancing their clinical teams' knowledge and skills to handle cases and gather evidence effectively, ensuring a comprehensive response to child survivors of violence.

These comprehensive, cross-sectoral initiatives were instrumental in creating safe learning environments and supporting children affected by violence.

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Kenyan DREAMS Programme participant, Yorub. Photo courtesy of PEPFAR Kenya.
Vivian Girls with DREAMS
Vivian, Kenya. Photo courtesy of PEPFAR Kenya.

4. Increased co-ordination & collaboration

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Coordination structures were vital in facilitating collaboration among stakeholders. Established in 2012, the National Council for Children's Services coordinated child protection efforts at the national level, ensuring a unified and multi-sectoral approach.

At the county, sub-county, and location levels, Area Advisory Committees provided crucial platforms for coordination and addressing child protection concerns within their respective areas.

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To streamline programs and promote effective communication and problem-solving, technical working groups were established at both the national and county levels, bringing together partners in the shared mission of safeguarding children's well-being.

The establishment of Children's Assemblies in all 47 counties allowed children to have a formal voice in influencing policy decisions. State-funded support contributed to the sustainability of these assemblies, while local children's rights clubs further empowered children to actively engage in child protection matters. The enrolment of a significant number of children in these rights clubs amplified their voices, reinforcing the importance of their participation in shaping their own safety and well-being.

5. Increased community awareness of violence against children

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Joshua Ndolo, an 'End GBV' advocate leads adolescent girls for a march during '16 Days of Activisim to end GBV'. Credit: Rebecca Musanga, LVCT Health
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Efforts to promote child protection extended far beyond institutional and governmental levels, reaching into the very fabric of communities through sensitization initiatives. These initiatives were designed to raise awareness about violence against children and empower community members, including the children themselves.

The media played a significant role in amplifying the issue and bringing it to public attention. Media was crucial, as it led to highlighting cases of abused children and closely following up on the legal proceedings.

This heightened awareness created a sense of vigilance within the community, fostering an environment where everyone felt alert and responsible for safeguarding children's well-being.

Vital was the empowerment of children themselves. Through targeted programs and training initiatives, children were educated about their rights and responsibilities, empowering them to be agents of change in their own lives and those of others around them.

An effective strategy involved sensitizing children within schools, acknowledging the positive impact of disseminating information about child rights and reporting mechanisms. By providing children with this knowledge, they became more aware of their rights and the proper channels for seeking help and support.

This awareness translated into a proactive approach, where children actively participated in protecting themselves and their peers from violence. Children and youth had started reporting cases of other children who have been violated.

6. Strengthened data collection & reporting system:

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Between 2010 and 2019, significant efforts were undertaken to strengthen data collection systems across various sectors involved in implementing violence against children services.

The Ministry of Health enhanced routine data collection for sexual and gender-based violence by introducing official tools like the Post Rape Care form (MOH 364) and the age-4 Sexual Violence Register in public health facilities. These tools were readily available to healthcare providers.

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Jacinta helps her daughter with her homework. Photo courtesy of PEPFAR Kenya.

Additionally, key sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) indicators were identified and incorporated into the District Health Information System. This systematic tracking and monthly analysis of SGBV-related data provided valuable insights into the prevalence and patterns of SGBV cases among children within the healthcare system.

Similarly, the child protection sector introduced the Child Protection Management Information System in 2016. This served as a comprehensive data platform for recording, monitoring, and overseeing child protection support and related issues. It has been invaluable in generating data for evidence-based decision-making and comprehensive oversight of child protection initiatives.

7. Availability of local evidence

The Kenya 2010 VACS report successfully catalysed prevention and response measures in Kenya because readily available, local data is critical in determining how to address violence against children in the country.

Several studies were conducted alongside the VACS to assess the quality of services provided to children. The findings from these data systems played a crucial role in driving continuous improvement and enhancement of programs.