Safe House

Sofia Busk

2020 - Ongoing

Nairobi, Nairobi Area, Kenya

Rape and sexual violence against young girls is a massive problem in Kenya.

When the national Ministry of Labour and Social Protection in 2019 questioned teenage girls (13-17 years), almost one in seven said they had experienced sexual violence within the past year. Of the girls who had ever had sex, one third of them said their first sexual experience was pressured or physically forced. The consequences reported are serious: teenage pregnancies as a result of assaults, girls missing out on school, mental distress and thoughts of suicide.

The Maisha safe house in Nairobi, Kenya, is a place where a small number of these teenage girls are being rescued. A home where they can begin to feel safe, regain strength, help each other and build dreams for the future. A new beginning.

The girls often come from the slums in Nairobi. Many have been abused by someone in the family or by someone in their closest environment. Some of the girls fear for their lives, as the families are ashamed of what has happened and will do anything to prevent the truth from coming out. For others, the assault has also left them with a baby to raise and keep safe.

What is Kenya’s problem is also the problem of a continent that by 2100 will make up half the world’s population. According to a WHO-study almost half the women of Africa experience violence and/or sexual violence making Africa the most dangerous region for women in the world. Various analyses have stressed the social and economic benefits of ending the violence and empowering Africas women.

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  • The house Maisha Girls is founded by social worker Florence Keya. She has grown up in the slums and has been confronted with the consequences of sexual assaults all her life.
    At first, she let the abused girls spend the night in her own home, but it quickly filled up. Florence therefore moved to a smaller place with her daughter and gave her house to the girls. Today, there are 20 girls and 5 babies. However, half the girls live at their school and are only home during holidays. Here, it is Agnus 11 years (left) and Janet 16 years. They live with seven other girls in a small room.

  • Even though the girls live in hiding, some of them still go to school far from their childhood neighbourhood. The founder of Maisha Girls, Florence Keya, raises money from private donors to pay for the girls' education. She receives no support from the state or from NGOs. She sees education as the most important way to fight poverty and the circle of violence.

  • One third of the 13-17 years old Kenyan girls who had ever had sex said their first sexual experience was pressured or physically forced. At Maisha Girls Safe House the experience is that very few of the abusive men are convicted. Often the cases are postponed again and again until the girls give up.

  • Cynthia, 16, is one of the girls that Florence has helped back in school. When Cynthia was 13 years old, she was raped. The rape resulted in a pregnancy and today she has a child of 3 years that she also has to provide for.

  • Many of the girls are in shock when they arrive at the house. They are ashamed of what has happened to them and suffer from mental distress. There is a great deal of work ahead to make them feel safe again. Ideally, the girls are supposed to live in the safe house for two-four weeks, but many end up staying much longer, even years, as they cannot return to their families and have nowhere else to go.

  • Elisabeth, 15. To pay for her school cost, Elisabeth got a job as a maid with a married couple in Nairobi. The man raped her and Elisabeth fled the place. When the assaulted girls arrive at the safe house their most basic needs are met: they are given clothes, food and a safe place to sleep. They also get help to be examined at the hospital and to report the crime to the police.

  • The girls from the Maisha Girls safe house show great love and care for each other. In some cases, the rape results in a very early motherhood. The girls try to cope and grow by learning from each other. In Kenya, every fifth girl becomes a mother before the age of 18.

  • When Jackline turned down a boy in her neighborhood, he hired another boy to rape her for about $ 80. Jackline became pregnant, and in May 2020 she gave birth to a boy. Jackline dreams of becoming a nurse, but she fears that she will never get an education, as she now also has to care for her son.

  • Agnes is looking after the baby girl Faith while her mother Selina is washing clothes. The girls look after each other's children when the mothers are working in the house or going to school. Faith is also the result of a rape.

  • To this day, the Maisha Girls have helped more than 350 girls. But the problem of gender violence in Kenya is massive. Nearly half of all girls experience physical, mental or sexual violence during their childhood. Despite progress in some areas, the government is being criticized for not taking strong enough action to help the girls.