Keeping your Children Safe over the Holidays

Securex Senior Operations Manager John Ogutu

Over the past six months, 15% of criminal activity across the country that we noted involved or affected children.

Of particular note over this period has been the prevalence of Gender-Based Violence targeting young ones in various counties, including Nairobi, Embu, Kirinyaga and Nyandarua in Central Kenya, and Kakamega, Busia and Bungoma in Western Kenya. In November for instance, gender-based violence targeting children dominated public debate, particularly in Embu and Kakamega counties. It emerged that bodaboda riders in Embu were targeting young ones commuting to and from school, and while schools are now closed, the threat still looms large.

Elsewhere, tales of cultural rites of passage gone wrong have begun to surface. A 15-year old boy died during such a ceremony in Murang’a, prompting conversations around what really goes on under the veil of secrecy that the initiates swear to keep. Meanwhile, in the same county, reports of 12-19 year old boys being arrested for their suspected involvement in organized crime also came to the fore. Adding to the threat of radicalization and recruitment into illegal movements, six students were arrested in Wajir in July while en route to Libya to join an extremist movement.

According to the Securex Senior Operations Manager John Ogutu, crime directly or indirectly affecting children is likely to rise further over the holiday season.

“Children are often seen as soft targets for opportunistic criminals, and this threat is further heightened by the fact that our young ones are home for a prolonged period over the school holidays. Extra precaution should be taken to keep them safe,” Mr. Ogutu commented.

  1. Family Outings:

Family excursions, be it to shopping malls, movie theatres, Uhuru Park in Nairobi or the Coastal beaches, are synonymous with the festive season. Child safety, however, has in the past been an issue in such public settings.

“For younger children, discuss the concept of ‘safe strangers’ with them before leaving the house. This would be someone in uniform, like the security guard in a mall, or a mother with children,” Mr. Ogutu advises.

“Teach your children not to leave your side without asking you. Wherever they are, you should be able to see them, and them, you.”

For older children, perhaps agree on a designated point within the premises where you should meet at if you get separated. You might be tempted to leave your child unattended in a movie theatre or gaming arcade, but remember that criminal elements might be on the look-out for unsupervised children.

  1. Around the home:

Fire safety as a concept is often one that is deemed secondary when it comes to securing our homes. However, additional measures need to be taken during the holiday season, especially with younger ones in the house.

“In recent months, we have noted several incidents where children are left unattended and end up playing with candles, matches and lanterns. In other instances, guardians have left children in the house to run errands, locking the doors behind them and frustrating rescue efforts in the event of an emergency,” Mr. Ogutu noted.

Such incidents are avoidable. Candles and other potential hazards should be placed well out of the reach of children. Older children should also be reminded to put out candles when leaving a room or when going to bed for the night. During family get-togethers, the kitchen and any other cooking areas (like the barbeque grill) should remain out of bounds to children.

  1. Beware the internet:

The era of the internet continues to permeate through the very fabric of society, meaning the age at which young ones are introduced to the internet continues to drop. Conversely, the vices that our youth today can be exposed to online increase with every click.

“Over the past few years, the war on terror and radicalism has gone digital, with online radicalism increasingly being employed as a recruitment tactic by terror cells across the world. Not to mention the immoral content that is easier to find now than it has ever been.”

In light of this, you should consider monitoring and moderating your child’s online activity. You can do this by limiting the time they spend online every day, or by limiting their daily data bundle allocation. Teach them not to engage with strangers on social media, and not to disclose personal information about who they are or where they go to school.

  1. Peer Pressure:

“Without the shackles of a strict school regime or the strain of keeping up with a hectic academic calendar, teenagers are often left unoccupied and this in itself might result in them engaging in activities that are not constructive,” Mr. Ogutu added.

In Bomet, 30 students were arrested after they were caught participating in immoral activity. This in itself isn’t new, but occasions such as exam after-parties, Christmas and New Year offer up several opportunities for teenagers to misbehave. To mitigate this, you should consider having discussions with your child on the risks they might be exposing themselves to if they joined in on such activities.