June 2024

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U.S. citizen Matthew Durham, 21, has been convicted of abusing children at an orphanage in Kenya. Durham was working as a missionary at the Upendo Children’s Home in Nairobi from April to June 2014.

Their worst nightmare

Durham reportedly abused more than 10 children. Some of his victims were only four years old. He denied the accusations and quickly fled the country. He was arrested in his parents’ home, in the state of Oklahoma. U.S. District Judge David L. Russell sentenced Durham to 40 years in jail and to pay a $15,863 fine.

“These were heinous crimes committed on the most vulnerable victims. He was their worst nightmare come true,” Russell said.

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Betrayal of trust

Eunice Menja, the founder of Upendo, read a statement in court. She said that Durham’s actions were “not only a betrayal of the Upendo mission but of the trust Upendo placed in him”. She added that:

“Matthew Durham defiled the children. Matthew has no remorse. After he got caught, he still denied [the charges].”  

Prosecutors claimed that because of Durham, foreign volunteers “must now live under the cloud of suspicion, distrust and apprehension when they volunteer their time, talent and resources for the betterment of children in East Africa and beyond.” They added that he had severely damaged Upendo’s reputation:

” There is a real perception among Upendo’s local Kenyan community that more pedophiles lurk among the volunteers, especially the young male volunteers.”

Even when he appeared in court, Durham maintained his innocence. He did say he was sorry the accusations hurt the orphanage and that “the Upendo kids do not deserve this.”  

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A similar case last year

This is not the first time a volunteer in Kenya has abused children. Last year, Simon Harries, a well-known and respected British aid worker, was charged with eight cases of indecent and sexual assault and four of possessing indecent images of children. He was sentenced to over 17 years in prison for his crimes. Some people believe that he deserved more; over 40 victims came forward, but only 11 gave evidence at the trial. Dan Nderitu, who worked with neglected children, told BBC that he reported Harries to the Kenyan police. The police dismissed his concerns, since the accusations were coming from street children.

 “[To them] they are like small wild animals criss-crossing the streets, people don’t like them, people think that they are not good children,” Nderitu explained.  

He added that many victims would not come forward.  

“How shameful it is for a small boy to be abused by an old man? They chose to keep it to themselves and after all even if they went public who was ready to listen? Nobody was.”

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A serious problem

In the 2010 Kenya Violence against Children Study, UNICEF conducted a national survey including 1,306 females and 1,622 males aged between 13 to 24 years. The survey found that:  

“violence against children is a serious problem in Kenya…during childhood, 32% of females and 18% of males experience sexual violence. 66% of females and 73% of males experienced physical violence and 26% of females and 32% of males experience any violence as a child. 13% of females and 9% of males experienced all three types of violence during childhood.”  

Most of the participants who suffered sexual abuse received it from romantic partners or neighbors. For males, teachers and police were the authority figures that committed the most physical violence. And among family members, parents were most likely to inflict physical and emotional harm to children. In all cases of violence “less than 10% of females and males who experienced sexual, physical or emotional violence as a child actually received some form of professional help.”  

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SEE ALSO: Fighting Child Marriage In Niger.