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EDUCATIONINSIGHT.

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The Cradle Snatcher: A Society’s Anguish

Chilling reports about child abductions, child molestation as well


as child trafficking continue to make headlines, sending terrified
parents, the police and child rights organizations on high alert.
More shocking are the profiles of the offenders, who would
normally pass for ordinary law-abiding citizens; the people
society would otherwise trust with their children: school
teachers, church leaders, neighbors, relatives and even
shopkeepers.
The abduction, molestation and even trafficking of children are
cruelties that have existed for a very long time. A concrete solution is yet to be found and many
children, guardians and parents continue to live in fear not knowing when or where the
cradlesnatcher will strike next.
Many cases of child abuse, molestation or trafficking go unreported. Gilbert Onyango, the Deputy
Director of CRADLE, a children’s legal aid service, says recently, Central Kenya has reported a lot
of these criminal acts. Reports from Nairobi show that crimes against children have a prevalence in
informal settlements (slums). It is not clear whether this incidence of violation of children’s rights
in the Central and Nairobi Provinces due to their proximity to Nairobi, or that the relatively high
number of reports on crime against children in these provinces is attributable to citizen’s levels of
awareness.
The more knowledgeable the people are the greater the possibility of reporting of child abuse is
high because adults are motivated by their understanding of the importance of reporting the matter
and seeking help from the police and child rights organizations. The high level of reporting is not an
indicator of the absence of menace in other regions of this country.

CRADLE’s Gilbert Onyango reckons that poverty, unemployment changes in culture occasioned by
emerging technologies and the degeneration and collapse of governance systems are to blame
among other dynamics. Lack of jobs, he says, results in the
desperation that drives one to abduct a child and demand for ransom.
Legislative factors may have also contributed to this rise. The slow
pace with which court cases are handled could deter many guardians
or parents of victims from reporting incidence of crimes against
children. Other than the cost and time, there is also the risk on the
psychological well being of the child. The effectiveness of the
Government policies to protect children is subject of debate. “The law has fooled us. It is not
enough. That is why we at CRADLE are currently lobbying for the Human Trafficking Bill and the
Victim Support Bill,” says Mr. Onyango.

Who exactly is the sexual abuser? Can parents and members of the society easily identify potential
threats to their children? While an ordinary criminal would be easily identified by their looks,
mannerisms or even past criminal records, a pedophile at first glance could pass for an ordinary
person. According to Onyango, an opportunistic abuser can be a stranger unlike the sexual abuser
(pedophile) who is often times someone the victim trusts and knows from previous social
encounters. Many of the abusers have turned out to be the victims’ relative, teacher, house-help,
shopkeeper, and even next-doorneighbor. “Research by CRADLE indicates that 70 per cent of the
victims’ abusers are known to them,” adds the advocate from CRADLE.
One thing the police and the citizens of this country can agree upon is that a solution be found.
Onyango feels there is a need to first focus on changing people’s attitudes. In Africa a male child
grows up with the notion that they should be strong; undignified actions against them, such as
sodomy are shameful and a failure on their part to protect themselves. CRADLE confirms that in
every 100 cases of child abuse reported, 90 of the victims are girls. Onyango says their organization
has been on the forefront in making sure that the community is made aware of the existence of this
problem, its extent as well as expressing hope that they can get legal help when they need it.
Through its programmes, Onyango confidently says the impact is positive and many more Kenyans
are receiving help. He, moreover, adds that parents need to be on their guard and report all cases to
the police and the Directorate of Children’s Services (DCS) for investigation.