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UNICEF Reports Sexual Violence Increasing in Kenya

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, reports sexual violence against women and children in Kenya is increasing. UNICEF is urgently appealing for $3 million to provide emergency protection for children and women who have been displaced by post-election violence in the country and for those who remain in their home communities, but are at risk of violence and exploitation. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. Children's Fund says there is less ethnic violence now than during the post-election rioting last month. But, Kenya remains dangerous and children and women are at particular risk for violence and abuse.

UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection in Kenya, Birgithe Lund-Henriksen, says children are being raped. In a telephone interview from Nairobi, she tells VOA there are no accurate figures on the number of rapes or other cases of sexual abuse, because children and women are afraid to talk about the attacks.

"We have heard of children as young as two and also women as old as 70 being raped," she said. "And, I think it is a combination of rape and various forms of sexual harassment. And there is a serious threat that if any official reporting that takes place that there will be reprisals against the women and against their children. So, you can understand that everyone is very reluctant to speak about it."

Lund-Henriksen says the camps are not safe. She says children have to walk long distances to fetch water. She says latrines, which are not gender segregated, are located far from living areas. She says the camps have little light and children who walk out in the dark are at risk of being attacked.

She says Nairobi Women's Hospital has reported a growing number of cases of sexual violence since the December elections. And a hospital in the port city of Mombasa says there has been an increase in gang rapes and sexual assaults by strangers. Hospital officials say most are against girls under the age of 18, but boys have also been assaulted.

Lund-Henriksen says she has heard of children and women trading sex for food.

"It is very clear that the current situation is increasing the poverty level of many families who already are very poor, and their coping mechanisms are getting extremely challenged," she added. "And, you will find that children and families will basically do anything to survive and get what they need. So, in that context, we are also concerned about an increased level of trafficking of children."

An estimated 250,000 people have been displaced by the violence that erupted after the presidential election last month. UNICEF says about 40 percent are children. It says about 200,000 children throughout Kenya are particularly affected by the crisis and need help.

UNICEF says getting children back to school will result in better protection and a return to normalcy in their lives. It says money from the emergency appeal will be used to set up safe play areas in displacement camps in the wartorn Rift Valley town of Nakuru so parents can seek work or collect water and food, knowing that nothing will happen to their children.

UNICEF says safe play areas also will be created in the heart of affected communities where children who were not displaced suffer nevertheless from violence and deprivation.