Address the real threats to Kenyan families and stop scapegoating LGBTQ community

After the Kenyan Supreme Court in February ruled that the LGBTQ community in Kenya were free to register as an association, we started seeing several public proclamations that the family unit was under attack.

Some of these proclamations were made by prominent figures such as the First Lady Rachael Ruto, the Deputy President’s wife Pastor Dorcas Rigathi, Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha, as well as top churches and religious groups. They insinuated that LGBTQ folk threaten procreation and the continuation of generational lines and therefore the Supreme Court had erred in allowing them to freely associate.

After interrogating their arguments and contrasting them to available data, I conclude that the LGBTQ community is a convenient scapegoat and the farthest thing from a threat to the family unit. Instead, there are many other culprits that national leaders should address.

Divorce should be at the top of that list. Data from both the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and the Judiciary’s Family Division show a steep rise in divorce cases between heterosexual couples. Divorce rates tripled from 212,972 cases in 2014 to approximately 661,628 households in 2019.

By 2020, 17 percent of marriages had ended in divorce. Among those, 405,515 of the households led by divorced persons, about two in every three, were women-headed.

Legal grounds provided for separation included adultery, cruelty, abandonment by one partner and other irreconcilable differences. Economic strain, lack of financial support from one partner and poor communication were also cited as contributing factors to this strain of the family unit. No one cited LGBTQ individuals as a reason for separations.  

Sexual violence in home settings is another culprit increasingly harming the family unit. Analysis of data from the National Police Annual Crime statistics and Childline Kenya show a disturbing rise in incest. On average, police received 319 cases in 2018, 353 cases in 2019 and 333 in 2020.

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Parents, guardians, and extended relatives were cited as lead perpetrators. A recent Kwale and Bungoma County crime and violence survey report, for instance, noted that physical abuse of children is common by stepfathers coupled with sexual abuse of young girls within home settings.

Childline Kenya reports equally indicate that girls are more likely than boys to be abused by a parent or guardian. Notably, the root cause of these threats to the family had no correlation with LGBTQ.

At an international level, Kenya and other African counterparts are increasingly leaning towards a geopolitical alignment with China and Russia, despite China is renown for its notorious “one child” policy that was used as a population growth control mechanism. The Death Penalty Information Centre ranks China as one of the countries with the most confirmed death executions.

We need not shout about the number of deaths Russia has caused in its ongoing war with Ukraine nor overemphasize the 441 extrajudicial killing of civilians reported in 2022. Human life is not valued in these new geo-political allies to which we are entangling ourselves, yet the sentiments of government and religious leaders continue to insist that the family is under threat because of the LGBTQ.

We cannot forget the harm done by the Catholic Church.  Indeed, the Church’s institutional and systemic failure to address more than 216,000 cases of priests inappropriately touching and sexually assaulting children serving mass was a massive failure to the family unit.

If marriage is the panacea to the family crisis, why is no one talking about the unmarried Opus Dei brotherhood that has more than 90,000 members globally, and through its policies that continue to deny over 400,000 Priests and 700,000 Sisters the chance to procreate?

No, LGBTQ are not a threat to families. Instead, some of the REAL threats to the Kenyan family unit are steep taxes and unemployment that inhibits people from even imagining that they can marry. Procreation is expensive. Poverty and harsh economies that dissuade young people from marital unions are a threat to our families. 

Governments with poor retention of its skilled labour and delayed payment of salaries is likely to encourage professional immigration to greener pastures outside of Africa. These actions separate families and threaten our continuity.

Corrupt politicians, who hold back bursary disbursements therefore denying youth access to meaningful chances of education are the real threat to families. 

If we do not lend women startup capital for their small yet ambitious businesses that feed their kids, we threaten the existence of our families. 

Deadbeat fathers, who abscond parental responsibility and abandon their children with no contact or role modeling whatsoever are the real threat to our families. Maandamano and politically instigated electoral violence that kills our sons in the streets are the real threat to families.

Cultic religious leaders, who suffocate more than 200 women and children through questionable fasting methods are the threat to the family unit.

Some have found it easy to scapegoat the LGBTQ community without truly unpacking what is ailing the family unit, especially here in Kenya. We, therefore, cannot claim to care about families, or commemorate the UN Day of Families, which is marked in May, without demanding better government policies that offer social welfare to single headed households.

We need frameworks that do not burden the youth with unfair taxation. We must unpack anti-family religious practices that continue the vice of depopulation. Unemployment, incest, deadbeat fathers, and predatory preachers are the enemy to the family unit, not LGBTQ individuals.

Tabitha Saoyo is an Award-winning Health Policy Advisor and Human Rights Lawyer. She draws inspiration for this article from her own past experiences working on the complexities of teenage pregnancy, maternal mortality, and Gender Based Violence. She currently sits as an Amnesty International (Kenya) Board Member. Email: [email protected]

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