By Peris Gachahi

Pauline Juma was just 16 years old when she was gang-raped as she walked to her home in Kibera. The rape had been organised by her then best friend who was jealous of her achievements in school. Her friend’s brother and his buddies threatened her with death if she so much as mentioned the assault. The physical and emotional trauma saw Pauline attempt suicide thrice, she got suspended from school for acting out, and later on endure two abusive relationships. Her perpetrators still walk free to date.

Eight years after her attack and the downward spiral that was her life, the mother of two is now the founder/director of a community based organisation —Rebirth of a Queen—a shelter for girls and child survivors of sexual abuse. The home is located in Kajiado County. Rebirth also runs a feeding program for more than 100 vulnerable families in Kibera.

Pauline’s journey to recovery was sparked and supported by Editor Vitalis, a human rights activist in Kibera who took her under her wing and introduced her into the world of modeling and activism. Pauline eventually became a mentor for young girls in the slums of Kibera and has established a sanctuary for young girls who have been abused or are at risk of abuse.

“One of the most difficult things is to deal with children and young girls who have been abused. Their stories make me relive what l went through. But this only hardens my determination to help them. I do not want anyone to go through what l went through. The attacks on young children are extremely difficult to handle. I was brought up to believe that children should be protected and yet we have these cases where someone sexually abuses a small child,” she says.

The shelter is home to 13 teenage girls and children aged between 7 and 20. Two of the girls who were pregnant as a result of rape have since given birth and their babies are 3 and 4 months old now.  Majority of the  girls and children are victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by close family members.

The measures introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 saw many children out of school, workers were laid off or told to work from home for the better part of last year.  This in turn left many victims of gender based violence trapped at home with their abusers with no place to seek sanctuary except for privately run shelters such as Rebirth of a Queen.

But in a country already struggling with a lack of safe houses, privately run shelters and women’s rights non-governmental organizations are essential for the survivors.

Spike in domestic violence numbers

Data on trends in gender based violence cases reported through the Kenyan District Health Information Software (DHIS) show that 2020 had the highest number of cases compared to 2018 and 2019. The surge is noticeable from March 2020, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country.

On 15th April, 2020, FIDA-Kenya, a women’s right organization, launched its toll-free number 0800 720 501 as one of its interventions to respond to the increasingly high number of GBV cases that were being reported in the country. In the period between the launch date to November 30, 2020, they had received 5,027 calls.  797 cases of these were SGBV cases.

Wanjiru Kamanda, Deputy Executive Director & Head of Programs at FIDA-Kenya says the line has come in handy in the face of COVID-19 restrictions, “The  toll free line was established because we had to close our office as directed by MOH for people to work from home to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Additionally pre-covid we used to get approximately 50 walk-in clients in each of our three offices during our legal clinics on Monday-Wednesday. We could not have the said numbers given the ban in gatherings and the limitations to 15 pax at meetings. The toll free line is still in use to offer tele-legal aid and book appointments for clients who require to come to the office physically. “

She adds that FIDA-Kenya works closely with the police to report the cases for the perpetrators to be arrested, and since they do not have their own safe spaces, they liaise with other safe shelters/rescue centers where they refer some of their clients for temporary accommodation”

In many instances, these abuses go unreported either due to fear, stigma or the strenuous court processes that come with reporting such cases. Pauline can relate to this as getting justice for her survivors, both before and during the pandemic, has been a daunting task even in instances  where the perpetrator is known.

“We have nine cases already in court and none of them has been resolved. The perpetrators are free to roam in the community.The hearings are adjourned every time. This happens over and over again for no reason. Getting justice for the girls has been an uphill task. The only thing we can do is help the survivor heal and provide her with the support that makes it possible for her to deal with the trauma of seeing their perpetrator day in day out,” Pauline says.

Pauline and her team have managed to rescue and provide sanctuary for 20 girls since the pandemic hit the country. But due to limited space and adherence to COVID-19 government regulations on social distancing, she has unfortunately had to turn away many other survivors and reduce the length of stay for the most desperate cases, releasing them prematurely.

Around one in two young adults in Kenya experienced violence as a child – according to the 2019 Violence Against Children Survey(VACS) study implemented by the Government of Kenya’s Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.

According to the survey, it was not common for children to report violence or seek assistance. Only 12.5 percent of young women who had experienced sexual violence as a child sought help and only three percent of young men.

More than half (53.6) of the young women and girls did not report the attack because they did not think the abuse was a problem.
Many children— 50.5% of the girls and almost half of boys 47.3% — aged between 13-17 indicated it was acceptable for a man to beat his wife and they think violence is to be tolerated.

The 2019 survey indicated that some forms of violence reported by 13 to 17-year-old girls have increased, up from the 2010 survey. Unwanted attempted sex had gone up from 3.3 in 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2019 and physical violence (up from 17.8 to 36.8 percent)

According to a press statement by the ministry of public service and gender dated 22nd April, 2021, a total of 5009 cases were recorded on the national GBV Hotline 1195 between January and December 2020. This is an increase of 1411 reported from the previous year.  Nairobi, Kakamega, Kisumu, Nakuru and Kiambu counties reported the highest cases.

During his address July 9 state address on the COVID-19 pandemic President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered an investigation into rising reports of violence against women and girls – including rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage – as a result of Covid-1restrictions. The probe was to be completed within 30 days.

In the televised state address, President Kenyatta said, “We must always remember that the family is a projection of the state. If the family is under attack, the state is under attack. If the family is weak, the country is weak…I order the National Crime Research Centre to probe the escalating cases of gender-based violence and the worrying trend of cases where the girl child has been disempowered.”

The report released on December 20 by the National Crime Research established that the number of GBV cases recorded between January and June, 2020 had increased by  92.2% compared to the incidents reported in January to December 2019.

The highest increase recorded in the three month period between April and June 2020 were cases of defilement, rape, subjecting children to torture, attempted defilement, gang rape, attempted murder, sexual abuse, physical abuse, child abduction/kidnapping, child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child prostitution and online abuse. The period coincided with the period when the schools had closed and the strictest measures such as dusk to dawn curfews, business lockdowns and movement were in place.

The report also established that 71.0% of the 2,416 cases of GBV reported between January and June, 2020 were from female victims, with the main perpetrators of the violence being youthful males aged 18-33 years who are in a family and/or intimate partner relationship context.

The establishment of One-Stop Centres for survivors of GBV across the 47 Counties was also recommended, a point that Wanjiru stresses.

“There’s a need for resource allocation by counties and national governments to establish and operate government safe shelters, at least one in each county,” she says.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Promises, 25 Years Later

On September 4, 1995, 450 Kenyan women were sent to represent the country in the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, where recommendations were made to the United Nations General Assembly to endorse the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

During the conference, the participating 170 governments recognised that despite the status of women advancing in the past decade, the progress had been uneven and inequalities between women and men persisted. The governments committed to addressing the constraints and obstacles to enhance the advancement of women.

In a recorded video statement was delivered during a virtual high-level meeting at the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 2020) to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, one of the things President Kenyatta pointed out was that his administration is especially steadfast in its commitment to end Gender Based Violence and harmful cultural practice. This commitment is yet to be felt in light of safe spaces for GBV survivors.

Lack of Government Sponsored Shelters

There is only one government run shelter located in Makueni County, with separate wings for men and women.

In Kisumu County, the construction of safe houses for SGBV survivors that began four years ago, using  up Sh13 million, has since stalled. A total of 3 houses were to be constructed at three different locations. Construction had already begun at Tieng’re and Ong’eche.

Maureen Kemunto, a human rights defender at Transform Empowerment for Action Initiative, a human rights NGO based in Kisumu says the lack of safe houses has greatly affected their rescue efforts.

“We have no place to take our survivors after rescuing them from violence. I’ve handled 12 cases though two went back to their matrimonial home as they had no place to go to,” she adds.

In the absence of state sponsored safe houses, she says they offer their survivors alternatives “We refer them to relatives and friends away from home. Some are taken in by us which also poses danger to our homes.”

Mombasa County has become the latest to join in planning for a government sponsored shelter. This is after Governor Ali Hassan Joho, on February 4, 2021, allocated two acres of land in Mwakirunge, where a Sh 32 million safe house will be built. The construction timeline is still unknown.

To run successful facilities requires comprehensive planning of the site, the staffing and the programmes that will be available to provide support for SGBV survivors. Shelters and safe houses like the one run by Pauline Juma are largely unregulated.

Nereah Oderah, lead counselor at the Center for Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW), says “ Currently there is no clear information or standard guidelines for running a safe house/shelter, what is available is that most shelter programs are registered under the Children’s Charitable Institution (CCI) under the Kenyan Children’s Department and all fall under the State Department of Gender. “

CREAW has been assisting survivors before and during the pandemic. The centre also runs a 24 hour toll-free line -0800-720-186 and has been providing cash stipends to survivors to enable them reorganize their lives. They also partner with community radio stations to advocate for GBV free communities and together with organisations like UNWOMEN and Mastercard Foundation, they have been able to provide temporary shelters across the counties to women and girls fleeing violent homes.

According to Nereah, “As long as the underlying issues surrounding SGBV are taking too long to be addressed in this country, women and girls will continue experiencing violence, and hence the need for the government to establish and fully resource state run shelters at the county and national levels to house survivors fleeing violent homes.”

According to the Protection against Domestic Violence Act 2015 and Victim Protection Act 2014, victims of domestic violence are entitled to protection, compensation and restitution during criminal trial proceedings and also allow for civil proceedings against the offender.

A clause compelling the government to provide temporary emergency shelters for survivors of domestic-violence in every county was removed before the bill was approved by Parliament.

Nereah attributes this to financial concerns, “At the point of passing the PADV Act, there were many provisions which were contentious among them shelters and the guidelines for their establishment as such the reason for the removal of the clause was on grounds of budgetary concerns.”

In September last year, the  parliamentary committee on Labour and Social welfare recommended that the government increase budgetary allocation towards implementation of the policy on gender and national development. For instance, the national Anti-0FGM board has been allocated Sh100 million even though Sh1.4 billion is required to meet the government’s commitment to eradicating FGM by 2022. There are no resources allocated for the establishment of safe houses and shelters for survivors of GBV.

Nereah of CREAW suggests that the government establish public-private partnerships to support these shelters and safe houses and to come up with a comprehensive policy that will include strategies for ensuring their sustainability.

Efforts to get answers from the State Department of Gender on the lack of state run shelters have been futile.

National Shelters Network

In 2001, Edith Murogo  was running the Centre for Domestic Training and Development (CDTD), a resource center  which she founded for training domestic workers in Nairobi.  A few years later in 2012, the growing need for safe spaces for SGBV survivors saw her start Telia Agler Girls Shelter; a shelter that is now overwhelmed with the ongoing pandemic.

“We have handled over 100 cases since COVID-19 hit, which is more than double our capacity. Three-quarters of these being children and a quarter being adults. All are female,” she says.

Today, Edith is also the convener of the National Shelters Network, which she formed in June, last year. The network has so far registered 37 shelters from 14 counties, all of which are privately run.

 She says her motivation to start the shelters was driven by several factors, “To map shelter service providers, bring together shelter service providers in Kenya, form a platform where members can interact and engage on matters of mutual interest, co-ordinate referrals of victims and conduct advocacy for the registration, recognition and funding of shelters in our country.”

Lack of registration of shelters by the government has been a challenge, forcing some to end up being registered as charities or self-help groups.

“There is no registration for Shelters.  This has caused some shelters to seek registration as NGOs, CBOs, FBOs etc for lack of appropriate registration. We wrote to the state department for gender requesting for registration and they said that they have forwarded our request to the Attorney General for guidance on how shelters should be registered – that was around June last year! They have gone quiet! And we are extremely frustrated as service providers.  Because of this, our shelters sometimes suffer police raids and harassment of shelter clients, intimidation of shelter operators and staff, closure of shelters by local administration etc,” she adds.

Regulating private shelters also becomes tricky as most shelters are registered as CCIs – Charitable Children’s Institutions – which fall under the Department of Children Services.  This is not adequate as many shelters accommodate survivors who are over 18 years and not just children.

While there are some guidelines for  establishment of safehouses, the same have not been disseminated to the general public and there is little awareness of their existence even amongst shelter operators. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are yet to be developed to accompany these guidelines.

For Edith, the long term solution for shelters in Kenya lies in comprehensive mapping of shelters in all counties, registration of the existing shelters to make them legal, funding by the state for private shelters as they are complementing SGBV efforts,  establishment of government shelters to complement existing shelters especially with none, and establishing shelters for boys and men as we have a serious shortage.

On 22nd April 2021, the Ministry of Public Service and Gender released a statement on the increased gender based violence cases in the country and the interventions they have put in place to mitigate the situation. Among the measures taken so far, was the establishment of rescue centers in West Pokot, Bungoma, Vihiga, Meru and Migori counties, with support from the National Government Affirmative Action Fund. While this is a plausible move, the bulk of the available rescue centers for SGBV survivors are privately run.

Shelters like Juma’s and Murogo’s, and civil society organisations like CREAW, FIDA-Kenya and TEAM  continue to provide SGBV survivors with a lifeline—however tenuous it might be— as they seek help. But without government support, these ad-hoc arrangements are not sustainable in the long run.


1193 – Helpline managed by Kimbilio Trust.

1195 – Hotline for both women and men SGBV survivors, under Ministry of Gender and Public Service

1196 – Hotline for male SGBV survivors as well as pregnant women in need of emergency care, managed through a private partnership.

112 – Helpline to save a child from abuse under Childline Kenya

0800-730-999 – A national police helpline for SGBV abuse

0800-720-186 – SGBV hotline managed by Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (Creaw)

1190 – Helpline managed by LVCT Health.

0800 720 501– FIDA-Kenya toll free line

0722 294 690– Transform Empowerment for Action Initiative (Team- Kisumu) contact.


This report was supported by the Africa Women Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).





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Peris Gachahi

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