How Govt Covid-19 Measures Are Tearing Families Apart

  • Pedestrians assisted by traffic police at a zebra crossing in Nairobi, on Monday, October 21, 2019
    Pedestrians assisted by traffic police at a zebra crossing in Nairobi, on Monday, October 21, 2019
    Simon Kiragu
  • As Kenya puts emphasis on fighting Coronavirus (Covid-19), with a political storm resurfacing too, attention has shifted away from an equally critical issue that is ripping families apart.

    Ever since the pandemic broke out in Kenya in March 2020, many family members have been stuck together for the first time in ages as the government imposed curfews and lockdowns, to curb the spread of Coronavirus.

    This led to a shift in normalcy as new habits were picked up with analysts lamenting over the rate at which domestic violence and cyberbullying was rising.  

    Health Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi addressing the media, April 2020.
    Health Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi addressing the media, April 2020.

    Warnings on Domestic Violence. 

    Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi, on Tuesday, April 14, raised the first alarm during a press briefing, when she disclosed that she had witnessed gender-based violence at home.

    "Fellow Kenyans cognisant of the measures we have taken in the fight of this disease, we are now witnessing a spike in domestic violence, gender-based violence and sexual offences. Now is not the time to engage in disputes and to forget ourselves in terms of conferring domestic violence to our partners," the CAS lamented as she added that the Gender Violence Recovery Center and National Council on Administration of Justice had noted the upsurge. 

    On Monday, April 6, UN chief António Guterres called for measures to address a "horrifying global surge in domestic violence" directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "The current lockdowns, isolations, quarantine, restricted movement and social distancing have caused women and girls to spend more time with potential abusers or known abusers," the report by UN stated, adding that in the period before and after Corona (previous 12 months) 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner.

    Cases to Note

    In March 2020, a middle-aged man was arrested in Machakos County, after a video recorded while he was clobbering a helpless woman went viral.

    In April 2020, a 16 year-old-girl was rescued in Nairobi, after a man abducted and detained her, claiming that he needed female company to get through the government-imposed Covid-19 partial lockdown.

    In a different case of domestic violence, a  woman was charged with murder, after she allegedly stabbed his boyfriend 11 times following a row over dirty dishes.

    Causes and Effects of Domestic Violence.

    Speaking with, Faith Nashipae, a professional counsellor and psychologist at Thriving Families Kenya, stated that one of the causes was unemployment. 

    "Many families are lacking basic needs at this moment, with the man as the head of the family lacking to provide, the woman may raise questions and the man retaliates as he doesn't want to engage in a quarrel.

    "Another issue is pressure. External and Internal pressure, which is triggered by the fear of the unknown. Someone worrying how they would secure jobs in future, how rent would be paid and many other triggers," Nashipae stated.

    Joanne Kuria, a Policy and Communications specialist states that "Looming unemployment, inability to provide for families, economic uncertainty has added an extra strain of pressure for many families. An inadvertent outcome is the loss of control, irritability, anger and frustration that are often meted out in the form of gender-based violence to women and children in the household. 

    "The pandemic has added a layer of complexity for the victims making it dicey to report an abuser during the lockdown as he is probably a few metres away from you at any given time. Emotional and psychological harm to the children who witness this abuse is also a reality to contend with."

    How to Get Assistance

    Snaida Ayub, a professional counsellor in a past interview with stated that despite the government offering helplines for assisting Kenyans, individuals should also seek help from counsellors. 

    "The public aid is accessed by many people and may not offer assistance to one's satisfaction. Private counsellors should seize this moment and offer aid, both through online platforms or calls too," she stated. 

    On Thursday, April 17, the Ministry of Health set up a hotline number for emergencies. The numbers are 1199 for those who are in distress and need psychological support and 0721336017 for consultancy.

    The Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender also provided a toll-free 24/7 helpline number 1195. FIDA-Kenya is also offering counselling and legal aid services: their toll-free helpline is 0800 720 501. 

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