Each case of a 12- or 10-year-old girl yanked from school, circumcised and married off to an old man is the stuff of pure tragedy.
A few weeks ago, a report emerged of a girl who was murdered for refusing to be married to an elderly man. And recently, a 10-year-old was rescued from a marriage with a 60-year-old man.
These are just two cases of God-knows-how-many such obscenities are happening every day in this country. Fred Matiang’i, the Cabinet Secretary for security (who else in the moribund Cabinet?), addressed this issue at a public meeting in an area where these practices are rife. He described them as stupid and criminal, and told chiefs to crack down on perpetrators.
Hopefully, Matiangi’s angry denunciation of these crimes will lead to policy, programmes and legislation that will help us end these crimes sooner rather than later.
The abuse of children and women in the name of culture is not unique to Africa. In India, backward beliefs sanction all kinds of crimes against girls and women.
There are cases of foeticide, where mothers abort girl foetuses because girls are considered not only of less value but also costly to the family. Child marriages are endemic. Gang rape of women has reached crisis proportions.
The brutal gang rape and murder of a student sometime back brought the magnitude and seriousness of rape in India to the attention of the international community. In the cities, women are regularly groped and sexually harassed. India now ranks alongside Africa as one the most dangerous places for girls to grow up in.
But there is a difference between how India has decided to address this epidemic of culture-based abuse of girls and women and our response here in Africa. Indian authorities as well as intellectuals speak out loudly against these abuses. Further, the state has taken an uncompromising stance with respect to these crimes.
After the rape and murder of the student, the state brought back the death penalty for this crime. In one metropolis, a special police unit has been formed to deal specifically with cases of sexual harassment on streets and public transport. The unit also receives and acts on complaints of sexual harassment including unsolicited phone calls.
Given the population and the severity of these kinds of crimes in India, there is still a long way to go.
But as of now, these so-called cultural crimes do not have a friend in the Indian state. The state has unmasked criminality disguised as culture. Indian intellectuals on their part offer no philosophical justification, intended or unintended, for these crimes, and are in fact vocal campaigners against these practices and beliefs.
In Kenya, and Africa by extension, officials and intellectuals continue to tiptoe around crimes committed in the name of culture (that is why Matiangi’s stance is so radical). There are two main reasons for this conspiracy of silence:
First, just as in the case of corruption before the recent crackdown, is lack of political will. The rural areas where these practices are rife are also vote-rich areas. Politicians think that an aggressive campaign against cultural abuse will cost them votes. To a Kenyan politician, people are just potential votes. His or her political strategy is not informed by values or ideology. Rather, it is shaped and driven by calculations of what to do or not to do in order to increase the vote tally at the next election.
With respect to cultural abuses, the calculation is to do nothing or, in some cases, encourage such behaviour by use of coded language. Cultural abuse becomes a community mobilising tool.
The second reason for the silence, especially from our intellectuals, is what Abiola Irele called our psychological complex as a formerly colonised people. His meaning is that we tend to look at African reality through the prism of our colonial experience. Thus behaviour or practice that is just plain wrong, even criminal as with culturally sanctioned abuse, is viewed within a larger battle between the colonising ideology and the response to it.
Because the colonising ideology claimed that Africa was backward, the counterclaim was that Africa had a humanist tradition. So these abuses present an ideological conundrum. They are best denied, ignored or reinterpreted.
But no society on earth can claim to have acquired humanist values naturally. These are fought for and protected by laws. A humanist tradition in Africa will only come into being once we end cultural abuse and establish true democracy.
Tee Ngugi is a social and political commentator based in Nairobi
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.