The Constitution of Kenya (Article 260) defines a Child as an individual who has not attained the age of eighteen years. Child rights are entitlements that all children have by virtue of the fact that they are children. They are necessary for children to live a life of dignity. Every child has child rights, regardless of their sex, age, tribe, race, color, language, social or economic class, religion or political beliefs. 

The first comprehensive international legal instrument protecting children was the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC). The process of formulating it began in 1979. It was eventually adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. It was ratified by Kenya and thereby recognized as binding law in 1990. It has four characteristics, four pillars of child rights, four guiding principles and the responsibilities of the child.

The four characteristics of the UNCRC

  • It is Comprehensive. It guarantees children their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
  • It is universal. It applies to all children of the world irrespective of their situations, communities and traditions.
  • It is unconditional. It calls on all governments even those without resources, to take action to protect children’s rights.
  • It is holistic. It asserts that all rights are essential and equal.

The four Pillars of Child Rights

  1. Survival Rights which address the issues of the right to be born and be protected in all ways so as to live a healthy life, conformable life; right to highest standard of health, health services and maintenance.  
  2. Development Rights which deal with access to quality education develop child’s personality and ability; develop the child morally, spiritually and physically.
  3. Protection Rights which deal with the right to protection from work that is dangerous or prevents a child from attending school or holistic development, protection from all forms of abuse. 
  4. Participation Rights is a process of child development that provides an opportunity for children to be involved in decision making on matters that affect their lives and to express their views in accordance with their evolving activities. 

The four guiding principles of UNCRC

  1. Non-discrimination

Children must not suffer discrimination irrespective of their own/their parents or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or any other status.

  1. Maximum Survival and development

All possible measures and efforts should be placed to ensure that to the maximum extent possible, the survival and development of children is guaranteed.

  1.  Best interest of the child

In all decisions and actions that affect a child, the best interest of the child must be of primary consideration irrespective of whether the decisions are made by the government, administrative or judicial authorities or by families. The child should always come first.

  1. Participation-child’s opinion

Children should be facilitated to participate at all levels of our society; right from the home to the international arena. They should be allowed to form and air their opinions especially in issues that concern them.

The Responsibilities of the Child

  • To work for the cohesion of the family, to respect his parents and superiors and elders at all times and to assist them in case of need;
  • To serve his national community by placing his physical and intellectual abilities at its service;
  • To preserve and strengthen social and national solidarity;
  • To preserve and strengthen African cultural values in his relations with other members of the society in the spirit of tolerance, dialogue and consultation and to contribute to the moral well being of society;
  • To preserve and strengthen the independence and the integrity of his country;
  • To contribute to the best of his abilities, at all times and at all levels, to the promotion and achievement of African unity.

These rights, principles and responsibilities have been included in the Constitution of Kenya, the Children’s Act and various other Acts where the best interest of the child is protected. It is worth noting that under Article 2 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, international instruments such as the UNCRC which have been ratified by Kenya form part of Kenyan Law.


What is Child Abuse

Child abuse consists of anything which individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do which directly harms children or damages their prospects of safe and healthy development into adulthood. (National Commission, UK 1996)

Child abuse and neglect involves the maltreatment of children by either hurting them (abuse) or purposely failing to provide or their needs (neglect) thus depriving them of their rights. (ANPPCAN’s definition)

Types of Child Abuse

The main five Key types of child abuse are;

  1. Physical Abuse

This abuse leads to actual harm on the body of a child e.g. slapping, kicking, burning, , violent shaking, excessive beating, corporal punishment, FGM, human trafficking – children – abduction, deceit, infanticide, child labor, etc

Signs and symptoms of physical abuse

Physical signs:

  • -burns
  • -bite marks
  • -inconsistent explanation for injuries particularly if they are recurrent
  • -poorly healed bones, fractures or dislocations
  • -whip or cane scars
  • -pinch marks
  • -bleeding and bruises
  • -conjunctiva hemorrhage 

Behavioral signs

  • absence from school/truancy
  • over compliant behavior or over submissiveness
  • frequently running away from home
  • general fear of adults
  • fear of returning home or of parents being contacted
  • Deterioration in academic performance
  • aggression, resentment, violent behavior
  • bed-wetting especially if it had stopped
  1. Emotional/psychological Abuse

This abuse entails ill-treatment or rejection that has or is likely to have a serious emotional effect on the child’s development e.g. putting down the child by calling her or him names or telling the child that she/he is worthless and also discrimination and others that corrodes the child’s self-esteem and confidence that could lead to destructive behaviour in future. Scalding. Verbal abuse, Sexual, Excessive discipline, Confinement, Excessive work, Ridicule and humiliation, Bullying, Abduction, etc.

Signs and symptoms of emotional abuse

Physical signs:

  • -inadequate personal hygiene
  • -sudden change in body weight:
  • -sad face
  • -psychosomatic pains

Behavioral signs

  • alcohol and substance abuse
  • -depression 
  • -poor school performance 
  • -self harm behavior such as attempt to commit suicide
  • -desperate for attention.
  • -refusal to speak (mutism)
  • -bed wetting
  • -aggressive or violent behavior
  • -sleeping disorders such as insomnia or nightmares
  • -low self esteem
  • -apprehension or unnatural fear
  • -insecurity
  • -withdrawn from friends (social isolation)
  • -eating disorders such as over eating or lack of appetite
  1. Neglect and abandonment

This is where a person charged with the duty of taking care of a child fails to do so. In Kenya neglect is a crime under the Penal Code and the Children’s Act. Sometimes parents of disabled children abandon them especially in public hospitals. Eg Abandonment, Displacement, Failure to provide, Denial of rights – food, education, protection, etc.

Signs and symptoms of neglect

Physical signs

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Constant fatigue
  • Malnourishment
  • Illness such as anemia and kwashiorkor
  • Inappropriate and/or inadequate clothing

Behavioral signs

  • Frequent lateness or absence from school (truancy)
  • Low self esteem
  • Poor socializing skills
  • Dirty skin, diseases and lice infested.
  1. Sexual Abuse

This is when someone commits an act which causes penetration with a child, lowers child’s dignity, arouses child’s sexual feelings, makes sexual advances to a child any act intended to manipulate the child sexually (a person who is below 18 years). E.g. Incest, Defilement, Sexual exploitation of children, child prostitution, Pornography, Early marriage, Sodomy, Sexual Harassment – fondling, etc.

Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse

Physical signs

  • tears, bruises, scratches, burns or bite marks especially around the genitals
  • -sexually transmitted infections
  • -abortion
  • -broken hymen in the case of females
  • -Lax anal muscles in the case of sodomy
  • -pregnancy
  • -Recto-vaginal fistulae (tissues which separate the vagina and anus are torn)
  • anger, anxiety and tearfulness
  • withdrawal from friends
  • -possession of unexplained gift and monies

Behavioral signs

  • promiscuity (especially in older children)
  • -aggressiveness
  • -depression
  1. Exploitation

This is where a child is made to engage in activities that degrade or inhibit the physical, social or moral development of the child by a person who benefits from the said activities. It may take different forms

  1. economic exploitation e.g. working in dangerous confined places or in unhealthy environment or exposure to physical , psychological and sexual abuse
  2. Sexual exploitation e.g. use of, procuring a child for prostitution early or forced marriages.

Who are child abusers?

  1. Individuals including parents, step parents, relatives, guardians, foster parents, caregivers, domestic workers, family friends, neighbors, strangers, employers, volunteers, teachers, siblings, religious leaders, institutional administrators and influential as well as respected persons in the society.
  1. Institutions including prisons, police stations, remand homes, schools, charitable institutions, hospitals, family set ups religious institutions and corrective, rescue or rehabilitation centers
  1. Processes e.g. displacement during conflict, separation of parents or breakdown of marriage

Causes of child abuse

  1. Emotional state of parents: i.e. depressive illness or extreme stress that results in violent outbursts. This could be also as a result of poor anger management.
  2. Lack of poor bonding between child and caregiver: i.e. as a result of an unplanned for child or closely spaced children who overwhelm the parents
  3. Family crisis: caused by unemployment of one or both parents, poverty, alcoholism, separation or divorce of parents
  4. Undesirable characteristics of the child: e.g. mental retardation, handicaps, hypersensitivity and wrong sex of the child
  5. Background of the parents: a person abused as a child may also grow up to be an abuser
  6. Poor self-image: those who suffer inferiority complex may seek to enhance their image by exhibiting their prowess through violence on the vulnerable such as women and children
  7. Negative socialization: mainly affects men who are socialized to be macho or egoistic and who seek to control their households through  a show of aggressive pride in being male through physical dominance, control and violence on the weak and vulnerable
  8. Observance of harmful cultural practices like F.G.Ms, early marriages or honour killings. This is also triggered by ignorance of what constitutes abuse
  9. Religious fanaticism: some sects demand that children be not taken to school or receive medical attention when unwell

Socio-Cultural factors to watch

  • Traditional practices – fostering
  • Single parenthood
  • Polygamy
  • Preference of boys
  • Early marriage
  • Forced marriages
  • Informal settlements using elders

Children with great vulnerability

  • Orphans (care by guardians, grandparents, relatives)
  • Age groups 6 – 10 and 11 – 14
  • Children with disability
  • Those in the street
  • Those in worst forms of child labour (domestic labour, prostitution)
  • Child headed households

Effects of child abuse

Initial effects  

Medical problems such as sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy and physical injury.

Emotional problems such as guilt, anger, hostility, anxiety, fear, shame, lowered self-esteem.

Behavioural problems such as aggression, delinquency, nightmares, phobias, eating and sleeping disorders.

School problems and truancy.

Long term consequences

  1. sexual dysfunction
  2. promiscuity
  3. prostitution
  4. discomfort in intimate relationships
  5. isolation
  6. marital problems
  7. low self esteem
  8. depression
  9. mental health problems
  10. death

How can you prevent Child Abuse

You can play your part in the prevention of child abuse either individually, as a group or through your leaders/ representatives in the following ways:

  1. creating awareness on child rights, laws that protect children
  2. creating an environment that encourages dialogue between children, parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers, and communities
  3. providing integrated family life education in schools
  4. enhance community policing with special focus on child protection
  5. providing affordable medical care and other social services to children
  6. formulating a national child protection policy
  7. enhancing monitoring of children’s Programmes and projects
  8. creating and strengthening child friendly laws, policies and systems
  9. enhancing the capacity of stakeholders including police officers in child rights and protection
  10. empowering and strengthening families socio-economically
  11. establishing and strengthening community based rehabilitation centers for children
  12. Encouraging children to report abuses and exploitations perpetrated against them.
  13. Encouraging members of the society to take increased responsibility in reporting child abuse, exploitation and gender-based violence incidences
  14. Poverty eradication and creation of wealth
  15. Improving governance and eliminating corruption.


What to do in case of Rape/Defilement:-

Many cases of this kind of abuse never go to court or if they do are lost because of lack of sufficient evidence which is normally lost at the early stages after detection of the abuse. Therefore to avoid this ensure that:

  1. Do not wash the child before going to hospital for medical examination.
  2. Do not wash the child’s clothes or throw them away.
  3. Store the clothes in a paper bag, do not use a plastic or polythene bag as this may interfere with the evidence.
  4. Take the child to the nearest hospital or medical facility as soon as possible (24hrs, 36hrs or 72hrs). In any case if the matter came to your knowledge after the 72hrs ensure that the child is taken to the hospital for checkup and possible treatment.
  5. Report the matter to the police.
  6. Notify the area children’s officer or any child rights organization operating in the area.
  7. Above all, make sure the matter is reported.

Rights of the affected person

A person who has been raped/defiled has these rights; being questioned by the police, while in the hospital and while in court. They should insist on these rights being observed.

1 Right to confidentiality

2. Right to be treated with respect

3. Right to privacy

4. Right to a companion especially for the minors

5. Right to get medical assistance as well as counselling

6. Right to be represented in court

What to do after detecting child abuse

  1. decide whether it is safe to leave the child with the abuser or not
  2. decide whether the child should be removed immediately from the abuser
  3. invite other professionals/duty bears immediately
  4. try to avoid much confrontation with the abuser-do not express your anger as this lessens co-operation from the abuser and damages rapport
  5. ensure other siblings within the family are assessed for abuse

What to avoid

  1. do not allow your shock or distaste to show
  2. do not probe for more information than is offered
  3. do not speculate or make assumptions
  4. do not make any promises that you cannot keep, such as promising that everything will be alright
  5. do not agree to keep the information a secret
  6. do not work alone –make sure there is teamwork in dealing with abuse and neglect.

Building trusting relationships with child-survivors of an abuse

To effectively handle child abuse cases you should be able to build trusting relationships with them. This may take some time and you should be aware that a child who has been abused by an adult would look at all adults as possible abusers. Therefore this should be handled carefully. You should also be aware that what this child needs at this stage is support and not accusation or condemnation.

  • Maximizing the safety of the victim – “Safety First”
  • Medical care – to address physical and psychological/emotional harm caused
  • Crisis intervention – respond to any immediate emergencies
  • Self-protection skills – Help the victim/survivor detect the signs that build up to abuse (where to be at what time/where not to be/what to do/ what not to do)
  • Safety planning – involves the process of working towards the safety of the child – offer the victim more safety options, explore how they cope/survive and try to build on that.  Explore legal protection options. It is legitimate for a worker to spend more time on maximizing security of an abused child.
  • Provision of information to the victim of abuse on:
  • Available options in dealing with the abuse – police, counseling, and places of safety e.t.c.
  • “Child abuse is a crime” – because some victims are trusting end up living with/accepting the abuse
  • “Child abuse causes harm” – e.g. immediate and future consequences – in terms of emotional stress, behaviour problems – “an abused child will likely end up as an abuser in future”
  • How power and control are used by the abuser
  • Validating the victim’s experiences:
  • Believe them  – Accept them – Respect the victim – Be non-judgmental – Trustworthiness on your part – Show concern 
  • Responsibility of the abuse must clearly be placed on the perpetrator – he/she is the one who chooses to abuse – and yet is capable of acting differently.
  • Addressing the psychological impact of the abuse:
  • Plant seeds of worth, value, dignity of the victim – e.g. “You don’t deserve this”, “You have so much potential in you”, “you are very brave” – This helps restore the lost dignity, self esteem.  It also helps reduce isolation of the victim.

Helpful responses when working with survivors of abuse

  1. Remain calm, accessible and receptive
  2. Listen carefully, without interrupting
  3. Be aware of your non-verbal messages
  4. Make it clear that you are taking them seriously
  5. Acknowledge their courage and reassure them that they are right to tell
  6. Reassure them that they should not feel guilty and you are sorry that this happened to them
  7. Let them know that you are going to do everything you can to help them and what may happen as a result
  8. Make a note of what was said and who was present. use the child’s words where possible


Child Protection Systems

[The contents of this section have been borrowed entirely from the County Child Protection Systems Guidelines. The notes have been simplified and summarized intentionally to make it easier to understand]. 


A child protection system can be defined as a set of laws, policies, regulations and services, capacities, monitoring, and oversight needed across all social sectors, especially, social welfare, education, health, security, and justice to prevent and respond  to protection  related risks (UNICEF,  2010).


To promote the well-being of children through prevention of and response to violence, discrimination, abuse and exploitation.  

The Roles and Responsibilities of Actors in Child Protection

Roles and responsibilities of formal actors: The government and civil society organizations

The government and civil society organizations form a major part of the formal actors in child protection. The government is the key duty bearer in guaranteeing a safe environment for children. The Government holds the main responsibility  in assigning resources and ensuring that the structures  to offer  preventive  and  responsive  child  protection  services are available through various government  departments,  ministries, agencies and authorities.  Government institutions are also charged with the responsibility of ensuring the implementation of laws and policies and taking lead in coordinating all work related to children. Civil Society Organizations and other non-state actors are responsible for complementing State action, and catalyzing change by mobilizing and increasing demand for public services such as education, child protection and healthcare, setting the agenda for best practice and influencing policy and practice.

Roles and responsibilities of informal actors

Parents, the extended family members and other members of the community, largely provide protection for children through informal mechanisms.

The family

The family has a role to play in promoting child protection by:

  • Ensuring registration of all children at birth to secure their identity and protect other rights. This will facilitate school registration, access to healthcare and avoid cases of trafficking,  abduction deprivation of property, early marriage, sexual exploitation, child labour, child soldier and criminal justice;
  • Ensuring immunization  of children against all preventable  diseases;
  • Creating homes that are free from violence and abuse through promotion of self-discipline, self-esteem  and values;
  • Ensuring that children are not left unattended  and have safe adult supervision  at all times; 
  • Ensuring that all school-age children attend school;
  • Equipping children with life skills to identity and avoid risk;
  • Creating  a safe environment  for children  to openly discuss issues affecting  them and to report incidences of violence and abuse;
  • Inculcating positive values, a sense of nationhood and encouraging child participation in
  • decision making and national building efforts; and,
  • Reporting suspected/confirmed cases of abuse to relevant authorities.

An effective child protection scheme requires a joint understanding of roles and duties of all players. Each Player in the table shown below has their duties outlines. They must all work together for an effective scheme.

International Community – Legislation, Policy ResourcesGovernment- Planning, Policy, Budget, Infrastructure, Law making, Ensuring human rightsService Providers- (NGO & State); Social workers; Health care providers; Education; Security officers; Faith based organizations; etcCommunity: Friends & Neighbors, Faith groups, clubs, Home-based carers.Family- Parents, Family members & Guardians, RelativesCHILD

Community Based Child Protection Mechanisms


  • Community Based Child Protection Mechanisms (CBCPM) are all structures, groups and networks at grassroots level that prevent and respond to issues of child protection

General Roles of CBCPMs

  • Sensitizing on child rights in the community
  • Family tracing and reintegration
  • Identifying alternative family arrangements
  • Family mediation
  • Counseling
  • Referring issues for specialized services
  •  pressure groups for political and budgetary actions

Specific Roles of CBCPMs

  1. Prevention of Abuse
    1. Creating awareness on children rights
    2. Creating awareness on the laws that protect children
    3. Promoting children participation and creating avenues for children to express their views
    4. Encouraging children to report cases of abuse and exploitation perpetrated against them
    5. Encouraging members of the community to report cases of child abuse
    6. Identify and support safe spaces for children
    7. Shun retrogressive cultural practices that infringe on children rights
    8. Prevent manifestation of corruption in the community.
  1. Responding to Child Abuse
  1. Collect as much information as possible especially from the child.
  2. Mobilize support for family faced with the abuse.
  3. Maintain confidentiality.
  4. Report the abuse to the formal structures- Police, Administration, Children’s Office.
  5. Cooperate with authorities for more information and action.
  6. Follow up on child safety, Family wellbeing and reintegration into the community after response is over.

The link between the formal and informal CBCPMs

  • Formal mechanisms-government led system of child protection
  • Informal mechanisms (CBCPM)-all groups and networks at grassroots that prevent and respond to child protection

Informal Mechanisms

  • Leaders of Ten households (Mabalozi wa Nyumba Kumi)
  • Village Chairpersons
  • Volunteer Children Officer (VCO)
  • Paralegals
  • Community Based Organizations (CBOs)
  • Women Groups
  • Parents
  • Children
  • Opinion leaders
  • Religious leaders
  • Teachers
  • Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)
  • NGOS

Formal Mechanisms

  • Department of children’s services
  • Area Advisory Council (AAC)
  • Judiciary 
  • Police Services
  • Education department
  • Health department
  • Civil registration
  • Director of Public Prosecution (DPP)
  • Office of the Attorney General 
  • The Office of the Ombudsman 
  • National Child Help Line (116)
  • Local Administration


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