Sylvia* (not her real name due to the sensitivity of the story) has worked abroad most of her life as a human rights activist. Sylvia is separated from her husband and has single-handedly raised her three sons. She moved back to Kenya in 2011 and is now an entrepreneur in fashion design. Her firstborn son is 28 years old, while the second is 18 and the third is 14.
As any parent, she tried her best to raise her children right including instilling discipline and good morals in them. While Sylvia was working abroad, she left her children in the care of her sister here in Kenya.
On one of the days that she was away, her nanny called her to let her know that her eldest son – then 17 years old – was showing X-rated videos to the other children in the estate. The call devastated her. Sylvia then made up her mind to come back home to deal with the issue, and perhaps take a leading role in raising her children. She thus quit her job and started a business in fashion design.
As a punishment, she thought it best to send her son upcountry to stay with his father. She also ensured he had no Internet connection in the hope that it would help her son kick off the addiction. How wrong she was!
“While the dad was around, he was a perfect kid but the moment he stepped out, he would bring girls over to the house. It took us quite some time to know what was happening,” she shares.
Things got worse in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when he came back to live with her. It was also during this year that she discovered that her youngest son, who was then 11 years old, was also addicted to pornography.
“There was only one laptop in the house and my eldest son was the one who was using it at the time. My eldest son was always on his phone and he would stay up late with his laptop and phone on the pretext that he was studying. Something kept telling me to check the laptop,” she says.
She heeded her instincts and upon checking the laptop, discovered tens of pornographic materials. It was clear that he was addicted.
“He had even recruited his siblings. The situation was worse as he had joined social media groups that had all those pornographic videos and photos, and their language of communication was so bad, it devastated me,” she laments.
No amount of talking or advice could help change the situation and the relationship deteriorated so much that her son ran away from home to live with an elderly woman.
“I went to the police but was told my son is an adult of 26 years. They advised that I should report the matter to the child protection unit in regards to pornography because he had exposed his brothers to the vice. They further said that if they found him guilty, the least he would get was 12 years in prison and I wasn’t ready for that,” she says.
Sylvia just wanted her son to get some sort of punishment for exposing his siblings to the vice but not end up in jail.
“I got this conviction that my son was hired by a pornographic industry that was paying him to engage in such behaviour. His Instagram was full of pornographic material, photos of girls, and every part of a woman and man, it devastated me. At that time the youngest was 11 years old, and the other was 16,” Sylvia shares her tribulations.
At this point, Sylvia says she was now struggling with her 11-year-old, who out of the exposure, had also become addicted to pornography. She was going through a tough time emotionally and mentally. She says she tried therapy following advice from the police but the kids were not keen to attend. They gave up after two sessions.
“My second-born son told me he caught his younger sibling watching pornography from the bathroom. He remembered the website from the time he used to watch it with his elder brother. We also caught him masturbating in the kitchen,” she reveals.
The incident almost made Sylvia not forgive her eldest son, especially because he kept denying that he had anything to do with his brother’s exposure to pornography.
“Later on we reconciled with my eldest son. I decided to give him a second chance, and he came to stay with us for a very short time. He realised that what he had done was wrong and was apologetic about it,” she continues.
All this time, her 11-year-old’s addiction to pornography was at an all-time high. She took away his smartphone and decided to counsel him herself.
“Oh! And I prayed so hard,” she says, adding that she started monitoring his every activity on the laptop and television and denied him access to a smartphone.
As a result, the child became arrogant and rebellious, violent and rude. The rebelliousness made him lose focus on his studies, and also the activities that he was really good at such as football. Sylvia resorted to trying to understand her son so that she could know how best to help him.
“I wanted to know what he had experienced so I could have an idea of how to talk to him. As a mother, I needed to know how to get to him so I could help him psychologically and spiritually, so we could fight the battle together. So when I see a certain behaviour, I sit him down and we talk,” she explains, adding that it is working.
Together with her second-born son, they keep a close eye on the youngest helping him to overcome the addiction.
“Monitoring your child as a parent is very important. Check what he’s carrying to school, what he is bringing from school, his kind of friends and the places they go to play, as well as their chats. I take his brother’s laptop to check not only his school work but also his Instagram. Whatever language is being communicated; I have to understand it,” she says.
According to Sylvia, parents sometimes tend to be ignorant of technology development which puts the children in jeopardy. Social media and pornographic websites are a contributor to the increased depression, addiction, and suicidal rates that emanate from social pressure.
“In Kenyan society, most children are left with nannies. As a human rights activist, I have heard different stories of how nannies perform sexual activities with their partners in the presence of a child, which has major implications as the children grow up,” she says.
She advises that no matter how busy you are as a parent; you should find time for your child.
“In the midst of looking for money to give them a better life, we end up losing them. If you are not in the country, work on having regular video calls. Put cameras all over your house, which will help to minimise activities that are detrimental to your child’s well-being. Forget about saying you’re infringing on their privacy. You are doing this to protect them,” she advises.
Sylvia also advises parents not to put too much trust in family members who could also be perpetrators.
“My own son became a perpetrator. Also do not love your spouse blindly. Even with a biological father or stepfather, you need to pay attention to their behaviour,” she advises.
Though she is still struggling with the effect of the vice, she says she is now engaging her son in a series of activities that hopefully will keep him busy and away from the vice.
“He is now back to playing football and other school activities and so by the time he gets home, he is really exhausted and has no time for other non-meaningful activities,” she concludes.