News : Visit to Call Centre Reveals Enormity of Child Sex Abuse in Kenya
Nairobi, Kenya, Oct 5, 2015 -- Shouts of playing pupils chasing after a ball welcome you into the compound that houses the National Child Care Centre in Nairobi.
On one side is a primary school, and the pupils are probably oblivious to the fact that just a few metres away from their classes is a building where cases of abuse on children their age are handled – most of which are too overwhelming for them to comprehend.
The call centre is an old building with peeling walls, and in it, several children and parents have walked in. They are patient as they wait for counseling. They sit or stand and wait. It is the place where they go to seek justice and healing from the ruins that come with child abuse.
"It is a safe place for children who are going through abuse. When everything is breaking and they are looking for safety, we try our best to give it to them," says Executive Director Mercy Chege.
There is a small room that houses the Helpline where reports of are made. Inside, eight counsellors who attend to the calls, are glued to their computer screens typing furiously and responding to the phone calls they receive every minute.
They project an image of people who are tough and composed, yet you cannot fail to notice that with each phone call, a part of them sinks as they attempt to comfort children who are confronted with situations that no child should ever go through.
They use pseudonyms because their job is too risky for them to introduce themselves to anyone who walks into the centre.
"I introduce myself as Sonia. This is because we handle very confidential and sensitive cases that have legal implications. If people knew who we are, they may look for us and harm us," says one of the counsellors.
She adds that with each passing day and with each phone call that comes through to report a child who has been abused, defiled or even killed, she loses a part of herself. She steels herself so that she doesn't break down while listening to the distressed voices on the other end of the line.
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Mounted on the wall of the room is a monitor that indicates every phone call the centre receives. When The Standard visited Monday afternoon, the figure 1,395 was showing on the screen. This was the number of calls the centre had received from midnight on Sunday until around 3pm Monday.
Martha Sunda, who is the Helpline co-ordinator, says this is the average number of distress calls they get every day. She adds that the number could be higher since some calls get dropped as soon as the caller is connected.
"We are always hesitant to call back immediately, because we could be putting their lives in danger. Maybe it is a child who has stolen their abuser's phone, and calling them back could endanger their lives," says Sunda.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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