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Three articles have appeared in the news recently and shocked me, even though they shouldn’t have.

They proclaim things like: thousands of teachers have been fired for sexually abusing students in this country of only about 240,000 educators and more than 500 teachers have been fired this year for sexual misconduct with students.

This brought all kinds of questions to my mind.

How many girls drop out of school every year or attend sporadically because of this phenomenon?

Knowing the stigma that rape still cases in rural communities, if these statistics are only based on reports cases, how many more girls are suffering violence at the hands of their teachers in silence?

When and how did teachers begin to view their students as sexual objects to be had as opposed to children they are charged to keep safe and to educate?

Why, why is this problem so widespread and why does it feel so intractable?

There is certainly not one great panacea for child sexual abuse in Kenya, especially when there are layers of cultural, religious, and political factors that keep victims silent and abusers free. But when the secretary general of the Kenya National Association of Parents blames the government and the Teachers Service Commission for the inappropriate teacher conduct because there was previously no policy framework to guide the teacher-student relationship, I just want to scream.

“In rural areas you will find a student cooking and fetching water for a teacher in his home,” he said. “This makes it easy for her to be defiled.”

It is certainly true that the conditions of students in rural areas increase vulnerability and risk. But passing off the responsibility for rape to anyone other than the rapist only underscores the severity of this crime and perpetuates the attitude often found in rural communities that this is just an unpleasant part of life with no real recourse.

I strongly believe that part of the first step is certainly to break that silence, make the public aware of the depth of this problem and stand by families who choose to fight back.  That choice can often have dangerous consequences for girls, but I have seen strength and bravery rise from within victims when they know their voice matters and when they know they have an advocate, a friend or a family member to walk along side them.

Thousands of teachers abusing their students?  This has to stop.

500 teachers fired in Kenya for sexual misconduct, CNN

Kenya sees rise in reports of child sex abuse, Associated Press

Hundreds of teachers sacked over sex abuse, BBC News Africa

(Yes, times three!)

Last week we received the amazing news that a third conviction has been achieved for our client, *Laura.  I first mentioned Laura’s case in a June blog post and at that point only two of here perpetrators, who were her neighbors, had been convicted.  For nearly two years, IJM has worked with the police prosecutor to represent Laura in as she fought to hold her three abusers accountable for their crimes.  Finally, justice has been secured.

Laura’s case was difficult for many reasons, the first of which is the fact that the perpetrator who was convicted this week is Laura’s own father, who with great impunity abused his daughter for several years after the death of her mother.  Second, the medical report from the government doctor offered contradictory evidence to that of the hospital where she was treated by, shockingly, stating there were no signs of rape or sexual intercourse.  The testimony of the government doctor can carry great weight in a Nairobi court of law, and because of this IJM advocates were unsure whether he would be set free.  They worked tirelessly in this case to ensure that in the court of law the truth would weigh more than lies, and their hard work has paid off.

There have also been personal complications.  In the two years since Laura and her brother and sister were removed from their father’s home, great reconciliation has taken place between the siblings, especially Laura and her brother.  While Laura was living through hell each night, her brother saw their father’s doting on his daughter during the day as a sign of favoritism and paternal affection that he had never known – and he despised his sister for it.  Immediately after the truth was revealed, Laura’s brother was angry with his sister for what he perceived as tearing apart the family and refused to believe his father was guilty of rape.  Through the hard work of our Aftercare team counseling the children, they have come to a place of acceptance of the truth and love for one another despite all they have been through.  They have now been reunited and are living together in a children’s home near their grandparents and other relatives.

[Photo: Laura with her siblings playing near the banana trees in their home.]

For all of the tragedy in Laura’s story, abuse, neglect, apathy and impunity, I see how God is working a miracle in the lives of these children.  I had an opportunity to spend time with them earlier this week, photographing them for a profile that will be done on their case later in the year.  Even now, as I look through the photographs I am struck by the extent to which Laura’s smile sparkles.  Where I might expect bleakness, I see beauty.  Where I might expect standoffishness, I hear her warm laugh and saw tender innocence that makes your heart melt when you meet her.  Where I might expect insecurity, I found confidence I know she draws from the knowledge that she is now in a place where no one can hurt her.  It proves to me that God can take the worst of the very worst things in life and redeem them.  He will turn them into something new, something that glorifies Him.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

[Photo: Laura]

Yesterday, IJM completed a National Call-in Day for the Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA). Thanks to voices raised around the country, the CPCA was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (S. 3184) yesterday afternoon!  This urgently needed legislation would help eradicate child trafficking in target countries around the world.

Your voice is important!  The CPCA will now move to the Senate floor for a full vote and I’d urge you to take three minutes and call your Senators to ask them to vote YES on this important piece of legislation.

IJM Institute has even made the process simple with a link to find out  who your senators are (Type in your state in the upper right corner and then look for the “contact” section on your senators’ websites.) and a sample script to make the call.

There are a lot of things you could do in three minutes.

Will all of them have a global impact?

From ijm.org:

“The Child Protection Compact Act, which was introduced in the House on June 5 by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), will provide assistance to select “focus countries” through the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP). These focus countries will receive support in building public justice systems that effectively investigate crimes against children and prosecute perpetrators in numbers sufficient to deter and eventually eliminate the crime. The legislation also authorizes increased assistance for care of survivors of trafficking.

On March 25, 2010, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brown back (R-KS) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced a similar bill in the Senate, called the Child Protection Compact Act (S.3184), legislation designed to increase U.S. support to eradicate child trafficking in countries that have the will to end the crime but lack resources.”

To learn more about the CPCA please visit www.ijm.org/justicecampaigns/cpca.

Thanks!

Korogocho, like its counterparts, is an overcrowded slum that is rampant with flies, sewage spills, poorly constructed sheet metal homes, crime and disease.  Those things, which may be obvious to the eye (and nose), are often reported on.  The stories that are less often told are of ebullient, happy children running to give you hugs, cozy homes that are a testament to the love and care of family despite harsh circumstances, and indefatigable men and women who are working toward a safer community.  You don’t need a particularly keen eye to witness these inspiring tales unfold before you – you just have to go and see for yourself.

Yesterday was my turn to go and really see.  I have been to Korogocho a number of times before, but today I had the opportunity to walk through the community with a woman named Naomi, someone who is quickly becoming a hero of mine.  Naomi lives in Korogocho and works as a community health work officer for a CBO called Ujamma.  As we walked through her neighborhood she told me about the eight children who are currently living in her single room house and the day-care she started next door to take care of other young children who were idle or left alone during the day.  In the middle of our conversation she turned away when a small girl ran up to her who was, like most Kenyan children, totting down the street completely overdressed for the weather in a ski cap and mittens.  Naomi laughed as she picked her up and then gave a coy smiled as she asked me, “What do you think of our home?  People say we are poor because we are in the slums, but I don’t see that…”

After an hour with Naomi, her neighbors and her many children, I commented that she was a richer women than most I know.

Naomi’s tiny home is a revolving door of children, and many of them who have been abused would otherwise still be left in a vulnerable situation.  You see, Naomi is also an IJM referral agent and is a previous winner of IJM Kenya’s Champion for Justice Award, which is given annually to a member of the community who would not otherwise be recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty to seek justice for others.  Not stopping at just taking children into her home, she reports cases to the police, brings them to the hospital if emergency medical treatment is needed and contacts organizations like IJM who can help in the areas where she can’t.  She is a shining example of one women doing extraordinary things with the little resources she has been blessed with.  Now that’s infectious – and a reminder to me that more resources should be directed toward identifying and empowering these men and women, but especially women, who are renewing communities from the bottom up.

Best of all, Naomi also has a fabulous laugh and exudes a warmth that instantly puts you at ease.  It’s hard not to see her community through her eyes after spending just a few minutes with her!

Here are a few shots from today, and a few more reasons why I believe it is quite possible to live in poverty without being “poor”, at least not in the way we typically tend to understand their lives from our idyllic telescope in the West.

Naomi and her spunky smile.

Korogocho “rowhouses”.

Miriam playing outside of Naomi’s house.

Like sidewalk chalk!

Naomi’s home is always full of children.

Little boys in the home day care.

Brothers playing after school.