What you need to know:
- While Kenya possesses a robust legal framework against SGBV, the full implementation of these laws to protect the rights of women and girls has been elusive.
- Communities are yet to understand the gravity of FGM and responses appear to be driven by fear of prosecution, not its harmful effects.
- The sexual exploitation of women and girls, often arises from gender and other systemic inequalities that cut across private and public spheres of life and across social, economic and cultural rights.
The journey to get justice is long, exhausting and elusive for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), but longer is the journey to healing.
And while some bear physical scars, all carry emotional wounds, plucked raw every time their perpetrators go free instead of paying for their sins.
In Busia County, Alice*, then aged 12, fell prey to a police officer who was serving at the Nangoma Police Station.
Disguised as a caring lover, he promised the pre-teen a piece of land, a job, education and marriage, until her grandmother busted their bubble. It was March 2020.
She was in class eight. One day, when school was closed, she left home without informing her grandmother, who found out from the girl’s brother that a police officer had come to get her, as he often did.
“I went to the police camp and asked the boss to produce my granddaughter. He said no one had seen her, and advised me to go back home and lock the doors and windows so that she doesn’t sneak in,” Alice’s grandmother says.
“Around 3 am, she came back home, and when I questioned her, she said she had come from the police officer’s house. I called the children’s officer, and together we took her to the hospital, which established that she was pregnant. I then reported the case at the police station, and it went to court after a lot of back-and-forths.”
The court ordered a DNA test three times but it did not happen, she said.
She says the police officer was released because of insufficient evidence, which would have been obtained from DNA results.
Defiled by army officer
In the same county, Janet* was defiled by an army officer and neighbour in 2018. As a child with a disability, her father rejected her at birth, and her mother dumped her and left for Nairobi, leaving the grandparents in charge.
Janet’s grandfather says she can hear but cannot speak and that her right hand is paralysed. Because she is a special-needs child, he took her to the Nangina Special-needs School near their home.
“One Sunday, when all the children were home, I received a call from our neighbour, who is a military officer. Because my daughter had been ill during that period, he offered to take her to a hospital in the military camp to be attended to because the services were affordable there,” recalls Janet’s grandfather.
“Because I was going to church, I asked another granddaughter to accompany Janet to my neighbour’s home, from where the officer would pick her.”
When the two arrived at the officer’s house, they were told he had left briefly but would be back. He had asked that the girl be taken to his brother’s house.
“Janet stayed there to wait as the other one came back home. When the man arrived, he picked up my grandchild and, instead of taking her to the hospital as promised, he took her to his house, locked the door and defiled her,” he says.
When he finally released her, she went straight home but didn’t find her grandfather.
The old man had gone to church before later going with other congregants to visit a member who had not been to church for a while.
“In the evening, as I was heading home, I met my wife at the village centre, who broke the news. We took her to a public hospital nearby, where it was confirmed that she had been defiled,” the grandfather says.
“She was in very bad shape and, when we informed the chief and assistant chief, they recommended that we take her to Sio Port Sub-County Hospital.”
The family did not have money for the trip and waited two days to hire a taxi, as the girl couldn’t sit on a motorbike. The grandfather reported the case at the nearby police station.
Expecting that the man would be arrested immediately, he was shocked to the core to realise that the officers had no intention of arresting him.
“The man even started lying that my second-born son was the one who defiled my grandchild. The man’s mother, when she heard about what had happened, came home to ask for forgiveness and to request us to handle the matter amicably,” the grandfather says.
“But the officer was heard bragging that nothing would happen to him. I visited Fida (Federation of Women Lawyers), but nothing has ever happened.”
Mary Makhoha, an activist with the Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme (Reep) says the officer has not been charged even after her group proved to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions that the girl has a disability.
FGM, early marriages
In Narok County, where most cases reported involve female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriages, Renei stands as a survivor. Her memories of what happened in 2018, when she was 12, are still alive.
Now living and studying at the Tasaru Ntomonok Rescue Centre, she speaks through the coordinator’s phone.
She recalls receiving an unknown woman into her home, who was introduced by her mother as a distant relative. On the same day, another woman arrived, and the three pounced on her at 2 am.
“The women took me into a hut, lifted my dress and pinned me down as the other woman cut me,” recalls Renei. In the months preceding the incident, she says, her father, without consulting her, decided that she was ripe for marriage. Afraid to approach her directly, he asked Renei’s grandmother to intervene, but he received a firm no. He then approached his brother to try to convince her, but he got the same response.
“After the FGM ordeal, my father sat me down and told me he wanted me to get married. He had even found me a husband,” Renei says.
Three days later, he took her to the market to buy clothes with a man she later learned was to be her husband.
She says she was upset and cried continually, drawing the attention of the shopkeeper. When her father and the man stepped away to withdraw money, she told the shopkeeper everything and asked him to trail the three of them once they left.
The shopkeeper called the chief and another administrator, who dispatched police officers to rescue Renei.
By the time the officers arrived, the man had taken Renei to a lodging but luckily had not slept with her.
They arrested him and took a shaken Renei to the Tasaru Ntomonok Rescue Centre. We spoke with Renei’s mother on phone, but she denied that they had subjected their second-born child to FGM.
She explained that they let her stay at the rescue centre because she and her husband are not capable of educating her.
They admitted that they had not seen her for three years but that they only talked on phone.
In Kajiado County, survivors also spoke of FGM and early marriages, while in Kwale, sexual violence manifested through teenage pregnancies that were as a result of girls being raped or lured into relationships by older men.
In Kisumu, women were raped by men who broke into their shops or houses and others were raped in front of their husbands or children, while others survived gang rapes.
Implementation of laws elusive
The Kenya Survivor Compendium, a report by Equality Now that sought to amplify the voices of survivors from Busia, Kwale, Kajiado, Narok and Kisumu, states that, while Kenya possesses a robust legal framework against sexual and gender-based violence, full implementation of these laws to protect the rights of women and girls has been elusive.
Faiza Jama Mohamed, Africa director at Equality Now, says communities are yet to understand the gravity of FGM and responses appear to be driven by fear of prosecution but not the harmful effects of the practice.
The sexual exploitation of women and girls, she says, often arises from gender and other systemic inequalities that cut across private and public spheres of life and across social, economic and cultural rights.
These inequalities, the report says, are manifested through restrictions and limitations on women’s freedoms, choices and opportunities.
Challenges include stigmatisation of survivors, inadequate awareness of laws on sexual offences, insufficient witness protection, and inadequate and lack of uniformity in sensitisation and training of police officers on evidence gathering, storage, and transmission of forensic evidence.
Others are basic interviewing and taking of statements, overwhelming caseloads, and insufficient resources to support DNA analysis in criminal cases.
Activists also cite insufficient guidance on minimum sentences in the Sexual Offences Act, undue delays, adjournments and inconsistent adjudication resulting from not prioritising such cases, caseloads, the routine transfer of judges, and lack of understanding of bail and bond procedures among the public.
The report recommends that all sectors standardise a training curriculum regarding the implementation of sexual offences laws, prioritise the protection of witnesses from accused persons by establishing safe shelters and expediting hearings and follow-ups of cases to mitigate the suffering of survivors and ensure that evidence is preserved.