NAIROBI, KENYA – Late last week, IJM Kenya secured the conviction of a school headmaster found guilty of sexually abusing a student under his care. The guilty verdict stunned the courtroom—a surprise conviction in a case where it appeared everything was stacked against his young victim.
Back in 2009, this school official sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl and threatened her to keep quiet. But when she and her family tried to report him to authorities, they were met with resistance and criticism. The headmaster was powerful in the community, and this girl was poor and powerless.
IJM Kenya took on the girl’s case to give her family the advocates they desperately needed. Social workers helped her process the abuse, while IJM attorneys worked to bring the headmaster to justice.
Throughout the three-year trial, the man used his wealth and influence over the community to intimidate witnesses and bring authorities to his side. Crucial evidence went missing, witnesses changed their stories, and local witch doctors tried to convince the girl’s family to drop the case. Indeed, it had become one of the most difficult legal battles IJM Kenya has seen.
“Through these hurdles our hope wavered,” says Casework Manager James Kironji. “We despaired but we never gave up. We always prayed and prayed again—and then some more.”
A few breakthroughs gave the IJM team hope. A former government doctor flew in to testify in defense of the girl’s story. And the young girl herself—overcoming pressure from her community—decided to bravely share her story in court. But when the day of decision came, no one could be sure what was to come.
“The defense had come to court beaming with confidence,” says IJM Kenya Legal Intern Mark Mugun. “From his arrogant demeanor, you could tell that he was assured that it would be an acquittal…But today he saw something else.”
The judge found the powerful headmaster guilty. He sentenced the man to 20 years for the abuse and an additional ten for repeatedly deceiving the court, amongst other infractions. The headmaster went to jail immediately.
The girl’s family was shocked and relieved, and IJM staff were gratefully surprised. Mark says, “I am quite honored to have witnessed a miracle today.”