Winnie Mukosi leads fight against defilement in Makueni
Winnie Mukosi was admitted to the Makueni Level 4 Hospital to give birth to her first baby in January 2018 when something caught her attention.
She was the oldest mother in the neonatal intensive care unit; the rest were minors who had delivered and the babies had developed complications.
There were six girls in the ward: four ended up losing their babies, one gave birth to a disabled child and only one was discharged in good health.
One of the girls who lost their baby later confessed that she was allegedly raped by a neighbour.
Winnie was disturbed by their stories and a month later, she decided to investigate what was happening in her village.
At one hospital in Kithungo Kitundu, Mbooni sub-county, Makueni County, she found 17 girls dropped out of primary school because of pregnancy.
That was when she started Linda Watoto, a community-based organisation aimed at advocating for children’s rights and helping victims of sexual abuse and gender-based violence.
“I realized these girls are going through a lot and they are suffering just because they do not know where they can report and how to go about it,” she says.
Her team consists of a counsellor, a medical practitioner, a religious leader, a lawyer and members who have joined in support for the cause.
She further collaborated with the sub-county hospitals in Kikima, Tawa and Mbumbuni, as well as smaller health centers in Makueni County.
With Linda Watoto, which is based in Wote Town, Winnie began going to the villages, churches and shopping centers during weekends to sensitize girls on how to handle cases of defilement.
With time, they began gathering parents as well, something she says has proven fruitful towards exposing cases happening without being reported.
“Mothers tell you that their husbands have been defiling their daughters and they do not know how to go about it because they do not want to appear like they are setting up their families.”
By providing a platform for victims of abuse to speak up about their cases, Linda Watoto then helps them get medical attention and justice through the court.
Mukosi says lack of knowledge is the reason most of the sexual abuse victims are suffering.
“I always give it an hour after we have done the sensitization meetings and I am still around, then I start getting cases of what has been happening and people want to know how to go about it.”
She says that most judicial processes have been successful, especially in Makindu and Kilungu Law Courts where many suspects of sexual violence whom her team follow up on have been charged.
“We are sure that when a case is taken to Kilungu or Makindu Law Courts, within three months it will have been determined.”
Reported cases of defilement in Makueni and early pregnancy have been rampant. At Kilungu Law Courts alone, six people have been jailed within the last one month for defilement cases.
Among them is a pastor who was sentenced to 20 years in jail on May 4, 2018 for defiling a minor in Kilungu.
On May 28, another man was sentenced to life in prison for defiling a seven-year-old girl in Mutulani Village.
In June last year, a man was sentenced to 80 years in jail for defiling his five-year-old daughter in Malili.
Winfred Katelo, the Children’s Officer at Kilungu Sub-county applauds Linda Watoto initiative, saying sensitization of communities in Kilungu has led to an increase in the reported cases, which were formerly being handled in kangaroo courts.
“Almost every week at Kilungu Law Courts there is a case about defilement, but the more the rulings are being made, the more the cases increase,” she says.
“I think people are becoming aware of their rights and more are coming out to report when sexual abuse occurs.”
Catherine Muteti, the mother to one of the victims says Linda Watoto’s sensitization forums have been rising in popularity around her area in Kyakatoni, Nunguni, Kilungu.
Although she her first interaction with the program was during the court processes, she says she is grateful that justice was served.
However, it has not been an all-smooth journey in getting justice for the victims.
Collusion between perpetuators and the police has been a challenge in following up on the cases.
July last year in Utangwa, Mbooni Sub-county, a man who was alleged to have defiled six boys was not arrested even after their families reported the issue.
After her team raised the issue to a local radio station in May this year, he was arrested within a day and taken to court. His case is still ongoing.
Mukosi also terms kangaroo courts as another big challenge. In one case where a sub-chief defiled a girl In Mbooni Sub-county, she took up her case but upon reaching the police station, the girl’s family had decided to solve the issue at home.
“Her mother had been given Ksh.3,000 to withdraw the case from going to court. We had to sit down with the OCS and the family and cautioned them and the case went to court.”
The sub-chief has since then been interdicted and the case is ongoing. In some families, speaking up about the cases has made the kids to stay from their homes, especially when their perpetrators is a family member.
Some mothers also end up being chased from their families by in-laws. In these cases, Winnie says that they look for safe homes for the children, and also teach the mothers on ways of making money.
Linda Watoto gets support from the county’s office of the senator, office of the women representative, MCAs, volunteers. She says her dream is to grow the initiative and help victims of sexual abuse nationwide.
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