Don't hide behind culture to violate children, DCJ Mwilu warns

Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu.

Marrying off children under the age of 18 is a criminal offence under the Children's Act 2006 and offenders will not hide behind culture to break the law, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu has reminded Kenyans.

Justice Mwilu urged communities practising child marriages to stop because the Judiciary will apply the law indiscriminately to protect children and other vulnerable groups.

"Child marriage is defilement and a sexual offence under the Children's Act 2006," said Justice Mwilu, who added that those who practise female genital mutilation (FGM) also violate Section 14 of the that Act.

She said lack of proper systems to report violations perpetrated against children by family and community members are among obstacles that frustrate the protection of these vulnerable groups.

Justice Mwilu spoke yesterday in Enoosaen, Narok County, during celebrations to mark the International Day of the African Child with hundreds of girls from the Kakenya Centre of Excellence who escaped FGM and early marriages.

The non-profit centre was founded through Kakenya’s Dream by Mrs Kakenya Ntaiya, a girls’ rights activist.

Justice Mwilu said the community had a cardinal responsibility to help institutions charged with protecting children by volunteering information that will assist in enforcing effective sanctions against child violators and rid society of paedophiles.

"The Judiciary is committed to protecting children, especially [girls] by creating a safe, enabling and empowering environment for children to thrive and meet their fullest potential," she said.

Lack of advocates to represent child victims and those in conflict with the law for free, she said, is another issue inhibiting access to justice for minors.

She urged the Maasai community to embrace education for girls and do away with outdated practices, saying that doing so would empower the community more than marrying off young and uneducated children.

Data from Unicef and the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey shows the national prevalence for FGM is at 21 percent, with the numbers significantly higher among communities such as the Maasai, where it is 78 percent.

Ms Mwilu said lack of corroborative evidence against paedophiles has frustrated the Judiciary's commitment to handing down deterrent sentences against offenders.

Delays in fast-tracking cases on violations against children had deprived them of their fundamental rights, she said.

She said: "The lack of enough resources to resolve capacity issues in the justice sector causes gaps in the quality of care and infrastructural needs for children in the justice system."

She noted that more children’s courts would help address the specific needs of children.

The lack of psychosocial support for children in the justice system and a coordinated data collection system undermines effective protection for them.

She said the Judiciary wants to play its part by ensuring that all matters involving children, including those concerning harmful practices, are determined fairly and expeditiously.

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