A non-governmental organization has raised alarm over the rising cases of sexual abuse against women and girls with intellectual disability.
Coalition on Violence Against women (COVAW) – an organisation dealing with violence against women and girls in Kenya – has decried the continued culture silence in the country concerning violence and sexual abuse against this group of people.
COVAW Executive Director Wairimu Wahome observed that persons with intellectual disability form a smaller group of the broader spectrum of persons with physical disability and so their issues rarely get addressed.
Ms Wahome pointed out that such cases have been on the rise but because disability in Kenya has a lot of cultural connotations, most families rarely report such cases for fear of stigma, isolation and ostracisation as the society consider them to be cursed and hence are vulnerable to exploitation.
“Their inability to communicate coherently exposes them. Normally people who abuse the girls do not come from far. They are their close family members like fathers, uncles, neighbours and rarely random strangers. They are people who know about them, are related and have grown up with them including even teachers,” said Ms Wahome.
An intellectually disabled person is an individual with challenges in their mental development which limits their ability to analyse, coordinate and engage like a normal person would.
The executive director explained that because of their inability to communicate efficiently and in a timely manner, evidence becomes difficult to collect with most of the time, the violation being known when the victim is pregnant.
“Evidence entails taking this person to a medical facility after the violation. Most of the time, we only know of the violation in form of a pregnancy if there is no witness or other form of evidence. So by this time, the evidence has been washed away and you can only rely on a DNA test after the child has been born,” she said.
She said that the organization currently has 11 cases where four are active in court but the justice system is slow where they drag in court for an average of four years as the complexity of the cases makes it hard for the courts to handle them.
“Sometimes they need translators, psychosocial support for the survivors and the guardians who support them through the court process, you need to ensure confidentiality is observed because it is very easy to intimidate survivors as witnesses,” she said.
Ms Wahome decries that even though there is a policy providing for witness protection, most of the courts do not have such facilities and so there arises issues of intimidation, and corruption where judicial officials delay the cases or render outcomes that favour the perpetrators.
Moreover, she observed that most institutions in the country are not well equipped to understand, mitigate and respond to the needs of these people in terms of translation, psychosocial support in schools or public health facilities.
“The education system rarely does have facilities for children with special needs and if they have, how many teachers are being churned out with the skills to handle them? Parents have to resort to private facilities which are few and expensive,” said the executive director.
In this regard, Ms Wahome said that the organization has embarked on a baseline survey that would allow them to establish the number of intellectually challenged people in the country with the exercise currently ongoing in Nairobi, Narok and Kiambu Counties.
“We are encouraging families that have not registered them to do so to get benefit as they are rarely in the system. People are afraid to come out and seek for help as they are branded yet it is a health condition that can be treated or managed just like any other,” she stated.