Daughters of Nairobi

In the shadow of Covid-19, a hidden epidemic spreads in Nariobi's slums: abuse and rape of young girls. Affected by lockdown, loss of jobs and poverty, frustrated men let their anger out on innocent girls.

Kenyan teenagers like Rebecca, Veronika and Frachias are not only dealing with traumas from rape, they are also struggling to love a child they have not wished for, and who often reminds them of the perpetrator.

In Kenya, sexual violence against women increased by 93% in the corona year 2020, according to a government investigation. Even before that, the level of violence was high.

In a 2018-national survey one third of the 13-17 year old girls who had ever had sex said their first sexual experience was pressured or physically forced.

Now former President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta has named it a ‘national crisis’ and promised to end the violence. Critics are sceptical. In the report ‘I had nowhere to go’, September 2021, the Nairobi office at Human Rights Watch accuses the government of turning ‘a blind eye’ and failing to protect the girls.

The UN has pointed out the serious consequences of COVID-19 to the world’s slum dwellers during the COVID-19 - and especially the vulnerability of women and children. Globally, the pandemic risks destroying decades of progress in women's rights and lives, the UN warns, calling the gender violence in several nations ‘the shadow pandemic’.

In Nairobi, Rebecca, Veronika and Frachia’s return to school and education seems distant. The victims of sexual violence suffer from mental distress, and some have thoughts of suicide. From within this shadow, however, a glimmer of hope persists.

“One day I will dance again, " says Veronika, 15, her son Sami, 5 months resting in her lap.

© Sofia Busk - Image from the Daughters of Nairobi photography project
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Fraciah, 18 years Mother of Adier, 3 months, and Simon, 3 years. Both boys are the result of rapes. They live alone in a tin shack in the slum settlement Viwandani, Nairobi: “When I got pregnant with my first son, my mother sent me away in shame. I had to go and ask strangers for a place to sleep or something to eat. Then last year, I met a guy who said he wanted to marry me. He forced me to have sex. When I had given birth to our son, he started beating me - and from there on it just got worse and worse. Eventually, I left him and found this little home for us. No one has ever taught me how to care for a child. I just try on my own, and I think I'm doing okay. ”

© Sofia Busk - Image from the Daughters of Nairobi photography project
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Viwandani slum Over half of Nairobi's five million inhabitants live in slum areas such as Viwandani. However, the slum covers only six percent of the total capital area. There are open sewers and lack of clean water, and it is common for 50 households to share a toilet. The NGO Plan International have had reports on cases during the corona where girls have felt pressured to give sexual services in exchange for access to sanitary pads. According to the World Bank, during the first COVID-19 lock down about half the Kenyan’s said they were ‘cooking less frequently’ and that they had altered their diet. Also, the problem was most severe in the cities.

© Sofia Busk - Image from the Daughters of Nairobi photography project
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Dylan and Brian, 1 year The twins were born in late 2020 after their mother had been raped by her stepfather. They now live in the Maisha Girls Safe House in Nairobi, while their mother goes to school up north. She doesn't want her name mentioned, but explains that she went to the police and that they could not help her. Florence Keya runs the private Maisha Girls Safe House where rape victims can sleep, eat and help heal each other. The residents are 10-18 years old. Some of the young girls look after Dylan and Brian, Even though the girls live in hiding, some of them still go to school far from their childhood neighborhood. 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 end the circle of violence.

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Phellisia, 16 years, 8 months pregnant. Phellisia is expecting a boy. She was kicked out of her home when her mother realized that Phellisia had become pregnant after a rape. She now lives at Maisha Girls Safe House in Nairobi with 24 other girls and children. “I like being with the other girls. They treat me like I am their own sister, and I love that. It is very hard for me to have to be a mother now. I just want to continue my education so that I can achieve my dream. I want to become a doctor and help girls like myself. My son must not grow up to be like his father. He needs to know that his father is not a good person, so I will tell him.” In January 2022, Pellisia gave birth to a healthy boy.

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Rebecca, 18 years, 4 months pregnant Mother of Aiden, 3 years. Lives with her parents in a tin shack in Viwandani. The ex-boyfriend forced Rebecca into unprotected sex, and as a result she got Aiden. Now, Rebecca is pregnant again - this time after a stranger assaulted and raped her. “I would love to have the baby removed, cause I do not want my children to suffer. It's already a nightmare for me. I can’t even provide for myself. Now, I have to save up to pay for a safe abortion, and if I can’t, I will have to leave the child in the hospital or give it away for adoption. ” According to the NGO Center for Reproductive Rights, 2,600 Kenyan women die each year from illegal abortions carried out with needles, bleach and other illegal methods.

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An abandoned shelter, Viwandani, Nairobi. According to local social workers several girls have been raped in this abandoned shelter in Viwandani. The victims most often do not report the crimes to the police. In a study from the University of Nairobi, just 12 out of 70 rape victims reported the crime. Distrust in the police is massive. Occasionally, even police officers are accused of rapes. According to Florence Keya from Maisha Girls Safe House very few of the abusive men are convicted. Often the cases are postponed again and again until the girls give up.

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Veronika, 15, and Sami, 5 months. “Sometimes I can’t sleep. I look at Samuel and think about what happened that Sunday I was raped by the pastor. I did not know him - I didn’t even come to his church. When I got pregnant, I wanted to take my own life. The police said I was not allowed to tell things I was not sure about. Since I didn’t go to the hospital, I could not prove I had been raped. When Samuel was born, I did not like being with him. But now that I see him grow, I like him a little better. But it's still hard. I once loved to dance ballet. It gave me energy. I have not lost hope - one day I will dance again. "

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Florence, 18 years, Keza, 4 years and Favor, 2 year Refugee from the war in the Congo. Lives in Maisha Girls Safe House in Nairobi. “I fled the war in Congo with my aunt and sister, but they are both dead now. My aunt died in a car accident, and my sister died when she gave birth to her daughter, Keza, whom I have since taken care of. I was alone with Keza and had to make some money, so I washed clothes for a woman. The woman's husband was at home. He grabbed me and raped me. He said that if I told anyone, he would cut my throat. I went to the Police and they took my statement. I wanted justice. When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to take my own life. I was afraid. I had nowhere to go. But some people from the church helped me, and I gave birth to my daughter. Later I came to this house.”

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Mercy, 14 years One night during the corona lockdown, Mercy stood alone in front of her home in the slum of Viwandani. Suddenly, a man grabbed her and forced her into her own bed. After the rape, Mercy and her family moved to a new place. Even though the old shack has new owners, the bed where the crime was committed is still there. During the corona, far more children than normal are exposed to sexual violence, several parties state. The victims have also become younger, down to 10-12 years, says Mohammed Cardenas, doctor at Nairobi's Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital: “Most of the people are at home, because of the lockdown, because of no work, because of poverty, and everybody's frustrated. So some people are not in the right frame of mind. They take out their frustrations sexually on others. The government needs to step up. People need to step up.”

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Esther, 16, and Hiram, 8 months During the first 3 months after the closure of Kenya's schools in March 2020, 152,000 teenagers became pregnant, the NGO Global Citizen estimates. That is 40 percent more than usual. Esther was assaulted and raped in the street by a stranger in June 2020. When schools re-opened in January 2021, the government said 250,000 schoolgirls had not turned up. For more than half of the 10-19 year olds, this was due to pregnancy or that they had gotten married. A few months later, Esther gave birth to Hiram. Esther is not back in school either. She lives in Maisha Girls Safe House. Florence Keya tries to help the girls back to school. Some girls live here for several years.