Children and women have borne the worst of the violence in Kenya and have the most to gain from peace, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, drawing attention to rising sexual violence and seeking resources to combat it.
With the two leaders in the disputed election, President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, set to meet through the mediation of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and other eminent African leaders, the agency said the political turmoil has increased incidents of sexual abuse against children, teens and women.
Preliminary reports collected by an inter-agency group, led by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) with support from UNICEF and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), indicate “the tragedy of girls and women in the informal camps who trade sex for biscuits, protection, transportation, or are raped while trying to get to a latrine during the night.”
The Gender Violence Recovery Center in Mombasa reported that cases of sexual violence had doubled since the disputed elections and there have been an increase in sexual assaults by strangers and gang rapes; most of them girls under the age of 18, but also including some boys, UNICEF said in a news release.
On the overall violence, UNICEF said brutal attacks have continued in several areas in the Rift Valley. Inter-ethnic violence also erupted in some places that had so far stayed out of the conflict, including Nakuru, which is now playing host to the largest population of displaced families in the country.
The agency has dispatched more than $1.2 million in emergency supplies and has had teams working on the ground in the major hotspots since the crisis began. But it said it needs more funds to protect children from violence and abuse, and to assist those who have been worst affected.
UNICEF also stressed that the importance of getting Kenyan children back to school. An estimated 1,700 displaced children have been admitted to schools in the Nakuru area alone, including hundreds in classes held in tents provided by UNICEF.
Working with partners UNICEF is also setting up “safe play areas” in Nakuru that will enable children from the camp to enjoy games and play. Parents can be assured that their children are safe while they go to seek work or fuel, collect water and food, or look for a place to live.
UNICEF is urgently seeking $3 million for emergency programmes that can “protect and help children today and build a safer Kenya tomorrow.”