Nairobi — A lobby group-Equality Now on Sunday joined Kenyans in celebrating the Day of the African Child, reiterating its call to authorities to ensure that the Sexual Offenses Act and other related laws designed to protect girls from sexual violations, were fully implemented and enforced.
Programme Officer - End Sexual Violence, Naitore Nyamu, noted that although Kenya already had in place numerous progressive laws to curb sexual and gender-based violence, systemic failures by the country's justice system, coupled with shocking levels of impunity worsened an already dire situation.
Nyamu urged President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Ministries of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, Interior and Coordination of National Government, Health, the State Law Office and the Department of Justice and the National Gender and Equality Commission to ensure that girls were protected from sexual and gender-based violence without any reservations.
She explained that girls' right to bodily autonomy was largely treated with contempt given that perpetrators often got away with violations whenever cases were not highlighted in the media.
She added that lack of proper coordination between the different stakeholders in the justice chain as well as underfunding and under resourcing of crucial cogs in the wheel of justice such as forensic laboratories ensured that the laws remained in the books and the perpetrators in the streets.
"Undeniably very few cases are reported and even fewer make it through the prosecutorial system resulting in a conviction. Women and girls within the communities are also subjected to shame and made to think that violations visited on them are their fault and that they have in turn shamed their communities," she said.
"This has resulted not only in a culture of silence by victims but has also meant that victims who speak out face tremendous retribution not just on a social level but also in the justice system itself! Many times survivors are forced to settle out of court with the perpetrator often times bribing or paying their way out of accountability," she said, and particularly highlighted an incident that took place in Busia County a month ago, involving the defilement and brutal murder of a 17-year-old girl who left her grandmother's house to go fetch water 300 meters away, only to end up dead.
Her body was discovered by her seven-year-old cousin and her grandmother lying in a bush with her right hand chopped. Her tongue was missing.
"Since then, only one of her assailants has been arrested, the others remain at large. Sadly, she represents one in 40 women and girls who have lost their lives to sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya between January and May 2019 and is among scores others who have been sexually violated in Kenya. Needless to say women in Kenya are not safe anywhere and cannot access justice in anyway. As a result many violations go unreported," she observed .
Kenya is party to a raft of regional and international conventions including the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women but similarly this robust legal frameworks are not enforced.
Much more needs to be done to make access to justice a reality for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya.