With limited help from authorities and local law enforcement, Kenyan families worry over the safety of their children in the rise of disappearances.
On July 15, the citizens of Kenya were outraged when Masden Wanjala, a 20-year-old resident, confessed to the kidnapping and murder of 12 children. A growing trend, the crimes join a crusade of violations against families and children in the region. Collectively, anxieties erupt as locals fear the worst.
What pans out like a scene from a horror film turns out to be traumatising real-life stories for Kenyans. Moreover, the abductions are a re-surfaced scourge that has reopened wounds of insecurity. Ten years ago, police units were assigned to deal with the uptick of vanishing local children. Measures to protect children even included installing school bags with panic buttons set by security companies. Yet perpetrators in the country, or outside of it, are at it again.
According to Missing Children Kenya, 190 children are listed to still be missing. Some may never be found. With others, kidnappers are querying for huge ransoms. Others are found dead, tossed in a river or a bush thicket.
The blame game
The fault of the kidnapped children has been placed on the poor economic state of the country as countless citizens become desperate for survival. A survey report by the Central Bank of Kenya reported that loans borrowed by individuals and households went up by 14 percent.
Investigations in 2019 led to the realisation that some of the abducted children were being used for spiritual sacrifices in Uganda, west of Kenya. Overtime, various reports have proven that children are being sold for low prices such as roughly $460 for a girl and $725 for a boy to unknown groups. This business is being conducted in Kenyan Government-run hospitals and low-income areas in Nairobi.
Illegal organ trafficking has also been listed as a possible cause regarding the recent history detailing high demands for vital organs such as the kidney.
Added to the disappearances are issues that some of the missing children might be linked to mental health. 1.9 million Kenyans have been diagnosed with depression. Considering the stigmatization accompanied by mental health complications in the country, many choose to remain silent. Similar to many developing countries, poverty and unemployment are marked as the leading causes of the diagnosis. Some cases of depression have been associated with conducting abnormal acts such as rape and murder.
While there is an increase in kidnapping cases, child abductions cannot be marked as a new concern in Kenya. However, the recent skyrocket begs the question on whether Covid has a hand to play in this, considering the rate of unemployment as many lost their jobs and relatively, money circulation was unquestionably low.
The police believe there is a human trafficking syndicate behind the kidnappings. In one of the biggest leads in recent cases, a young boy in Namanga details his escape with Ark Republic after being drugged and taken into a black range rover on his way from school by three strangers; two African men and a white woman.
He recalled waking up in the back of a Nissan van without seats, surrounded by two young girls and four smaller children in Namanga, on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. The presence of a foreigner and moving the children to another country raises questions on how big and extensive the operations are
“The children are not in a position to enjoy justified rights such as playing outside or even taking walks,” lamented a Huruma estate Nairobi resident to Ark Republicwho asked to remain anonymous. Living in one of the majorly affected areas, he claimed that there are people in unidentified areas purchasing children for unknown purposes. “How are we not free in our own country?” The resident questioned.
The snatching of children has left many citizens in panic mode, with some forced to take matters into their own hands, although the results of this violent vigilante justice are debatable. For instance, police rescued two men suspected to be kidnappers when one of the men was seen holding a child inside a vehicle on June 26. When questioned, he simply said that the girl was his neighbor’s child.
Subsequently, the suspects were requested to call the parents for evidence, but they disagreed. Later, a crowd made up of nearby residents gathered using all sorts of weapons, primarily stones, to initiate mob justice. The girl’s mother arrived at the nick of time pronouncing the two men as close friends. Yet a car with the two men still inside had already been overturned by the group.
Moreover, Christopher Gathigara, a father to a victim of kidnapping from Nairobi expressed the terror he experienced after a report that his daughter was missing. Sleepless nights, anxiety, and even symptoms of depression. Luckily, he is one of the few successful stories as his daughter was found through cooperation by social media users.
Many victims or affected family members exhibit signs of trauma, but this is not effective in Kenya considering the high cost of therapy and the normalised dismissal of such issues.
All in all, Gathigara confessed to still experiencing feelings of paranoia. He urges the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to take this matter more seriously, claiming that the agency has the means to do the job, unlike civilians. In addition, he added that many similar reports pile up in police stations, but the investigations are too slow compared to the intensity of the consequences.
In recent years, the Kenyan Police force has faced allegations of corruption and malpractice. So much so, they have been discovered to have collaborated with gangsters and looked the other way. This tradition of impunity raises alarms on whether there is an inter-connection between the police unit and the criminals.
Currently, no permanent solutions
As the frequency of the kidnappings have shone a light on parental negligence, appeals are being made to parents, urging more responsibility when it comes to their children. Some children have been abducted under supervision, while others have been snatched while walking or playing alone in the streets.
Another consideration is the lack of financial support to cover childcare. The ever-busy parents coupled with a wide lack of proper security in major parts of concerned areas. On another note, different child organizations have discussed taking personal measures like education and ensuring children are always accompanied by trusted adults, all without ushering paranoia.
The founder of Missing Child Kenya, Maryana Munyendo, made a statement regarding a technical department being organized by the Department of Children Services to compile all the data on missing children. She added that it will enable involved parties to create a more stable child protection system.
Munyendo also instructed citizens to be “vigilant,” stating that the kidnappers and sex offenders live amongst them. However, insinuating a lack of tracking systems is a sign that the released reports on the missing children are only a fraction of the reality. Of other importance, it is a clear indication that there is extreme disorganization and lack of funds to carry out proper investigations.
The kidnapping events have left many questioning the existence of humanity, questioning the security of the country. Time and frequency will continue to tell.
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