Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a global epidemic. From domestic violence and rape, harmful cultural practices and human trafficking, SGBV has a wide spectrum, leaving countless lives shattered in its wake.
One of the primary obstacles to combating the vice is the pervasive silence around it. Victims often fear stigma, judgement and retaliation, preventing them from reporting incidents and seeking the help they desperately need.
Besides, magistrates and judges, who play a crucial role in adjudicating cases in the pursuit of justice for the victims, often face challenges and threats.
The recent transfer of a case against Bunyala West MCA Carlbenz Okonya highlights the challenges for judicial officers dealing with high-profile or politically sensitive SGBV cases.
Transferring the case to a Busia court was widely perceived as threatening the safety of the presiding magistrate in Port Victoria.
That raises questions about the extent to which magistrates and judges can operate independently and fearlessly.
Kenya has taken commendable steps to eradicating SGBV—including the passing of the Sexual Offenses Act, 2006 and establishment of specialised units within law enforcement agencies.
However, the effectiveness of these measures is hampered by challenges, such as inadequate resources, a lack of awareness, and gaps in the legal framework.
Judicial independence is a cornerstone of a fair and impartial legal system. When magistrates and judges feel threatened or pressured, the very essence of justice is compromised. In SGBV cases, where the stakes are high and emotions run deep, it is imperative to protect the independence of the Judiciary. That enables judicial officers to make decisions based solely on the merits of the case without succumbing to external pressures or threats.
Latest statistics show Kenya grapples with alarmingly high rates of SGBV. The “Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2019” report shows 45 per cent of girls and women aged 15-49 have suffered physical violence and 14 per cent sexual violence. The National Crime Research Centre’s data from 2022 reveals that reported cases of rape and defilement increased by nine per cent and 11 per cent, respectively, compared to the previous year.
However, give equal attention to supporting SGBV victims. The fear of reprisals often prevents survivors from coming forward. Strengthening victim protection programmes, ensuring confidentiality and providing support services can empower survivors to seek justice. That reduces the burden on magistrates and judges by creating an atmosphere where survivors feel safe to share their experiences.
Kenya has a robust legal framework to combat SGBV, with laws such as the Sexual Offences Act and the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act. But the gap between legislation and implementation is a formidable hurdle. To address the causes of SGBV and ease the burden on magistrates and judges, law enforcement agencies must be adequately trained to handle cases sensitively and survivors get access to justice without fear of retaliation.
- Ms Kathia, communications specialist, is a sexual and reproductive health and rights and youth advocate at Naya Kenya. [email protected].