[Svrilist] Kenyan Activists Push for change in Rape Laws

svrilist at mrc.ac.za svrilist at mrc.ac.za
Wed May 17 17:46:41 SAST 2006


Thanks for your always interesting and up-to-date news.
After recently having visited Kenya and known her for many years I read this
with special big interest. One small but I believe important reflection is that
we often talk about rape in relation to girls and women, and no doubt this is
the major victims. I do, however believe that it is important to not ignore the
rape of boys and men as well. I have had several oral reports of not only girls
and women, but also boys and men being raped in Kenya. The awareness of this
fact is often very limited and these males often face a double stigma in
attempting to get help.
 Best regards Pia
*******************************************************************
Pia Rockhold
Senior Operations Officer
Disability and Development Team, Human Development Network
The World Bank, 1818 H Street N.W.
Washington D.C. 20433, USA
Ph: 202-458-9314 & Fax 202-522-6138
Email: prockhold at worldbank.org




                                                                                
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                   to                [Svrilist] Kenyan Activists Push for       
             svrilist at mrc.ac         change in Rape Laws                        
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INTERNATIONAL



Kenyan Activists Push New Sex-Assault Law


By Ochieng' Ogodo
WeNews correspondent


(Embedded image moved to file: pic24350.gif)Njoki NdunThree days later, some 200
kilometers away in Sotik, Zephaniah Kibet Koech was sentenced to seven years in
prison after pleading guilty to raping a 13-year-old. Koech waylaid the girl on
her way to school, forcibly removed her clothes and gagged her before raping
her.


The two child-rape cases were part of a torrent of publicity about a crime that
has been rising in Kenya. Despite survivors' reluctance to make public
accusations, 1,987 women and children were reported to be raped in 2001; 2,005
in 2002; 2,308 in 2003. In 2005, the number of cases rose to 2,908, according to
police statistics released last September. The East Africa nation has a
population of about 30 million.


In response to growing concern over rape and incest, one member of Kenya's
Parliament, Njoki Ndun'gu, introduced a bill last summer that would have handed
down stiff penalties to convicted rapists and revised a legal code for
addressing sexual crimes that had not experienced significant alterations since
1930.


"The current law relating to rape and other sexual offenses is archaic and we
have to do something," Ndun'gu told Women's eNews. "Would-be offenders must know
that if they commit the crime, they will not escape with a fine or a couple
months in jail but will be behind bars for the best part of their lives."


But Ndun'gu's Sexual Offenses Bill hasn't won passage yet. Last week the
Parliament went on recess without approving it. The bill, which many observers
predict will ultimately be passed in an amended form, has been greeted with
skepticism by some in the male-dominated Parliament. In late April, 12 of the
body's 18 female members stormed out of a debate in protest after member Paddy
Ahenda remarked that many Kenyan women were too "shy" to consent to sex by
saying yes directly.


"If the bill is adopted the way it is, it will prevent men from courting women
and this will be a serious impediment to the young who would want to marry,"
Ahenda said. "In our culture, when women say no, they mean yes, unless she's
loose in morals."


'Endemic' Abuse of Children


Last July, Care International issued a blistering report about the abuse of
children in Kenya, calling it endemic. "Alarmingly, the most common form of
abuse against children appears to be sexual abuse," the Nairobi-based
humanitarian aid group found.


The report drew a link between the prevalence of sexual abuse in Kenya and
socio-economic status, noting that about 80 percent of reported cases occurred
in low-income areas and slums. Families can be found living in single rooms with
limited privacy. High unemployment rates among youths are also a factor, the
report said.


But most sexual abuses that occur in wealthier households often go unreported,
the report said. A similar report issued by London-based Amnesty International
in March of 2002 called on the Kenyan government to reform its rape laws, noting
that many victims face "insurmountable obstacles" in reporting their cases and
encounter hostility from family, the police and community members.


Spurred by the prevalence of the crime, the severity of physical and
psychological injury to victims and heightened media attention, Ndun'gu and
anti-rape activists in 2005 proposed tougher punishments for convicted offenders
of various types of sexual assault. The original bill was withdrawn after it was
criticized for including chemical castration as a possible sentence for rapists,
but a revised version eliminating castration was reintroduced.


The current bill presents 36 penalties for convicted rapists, which range from
hard labor, prison sentences between one and 20 years and even life terms. Under
the bill, anyone convicted of publishing or distributing child pornography will
face at least six years in prison or a fine up to 500,000 Kenyan shillings,
about $7,000.


The bill also introduces marital rape as a crime for the first time.


Child Marriage Outlawed


Anyone convicted of marrying a minor--under 18--would face a prison term of at
least 10 years. Girls as young as 10 years old are commonly married among some
of the traditional pastoral communities of Kenya, even though the age of consent
was raised to 18 in 1999 as a method to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS.


The law would also punish a man found guilty of forced wife inheritance--a
traditional custom that says a widow must be "inherited" by her husband's
brother or close relative--with a 10-year prison term.


"The Sexual Offenses Bill will address gaps in our current law," said Kathurima
M'Inoti, chair of the Kenya Law Reform Commission, adding that the current penal
code was developed from centuries-old customs and ideas.


The bill was spearheaded by 40-year-old Ndun'gu. Before her nomination to
Parliament in early 2003, Ndun'gu worked with women's rights activists who
informed her that rape occurs in Kenya every 30 minutes. She also worked with
the Nairobi Women's Hospital, which since its foundation 10 years ago has
treated rape victims.


The Kenya chapter of the Nairobi-based Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya found
in a 1999 study that very few survivors of gender-based violence will report the
crime and even fewer will pursue legal action.


Stigma Affects Victims


"Unfortunately due to gender discrimination, the low status in society of women
and girls, and the terrible stigma that affects the victims and their families,
little or no reporting of rape occurs and it goes unpunished," says Ndun'gu.


A rape survivor, say activists, is often shunned by family and former friends as
"unclean." In some communities they can only be married as second or third
wives.


Authors of Care International's July study found that rape cases, particularly
those involving upper and middle-income women, often were only brought to light
after a survivor developed medical complications or was in dire need of medical
attention.


While resistance to reporting rape may rise with income, Millicent Odhiambo,
executive director of Nairobi-based The CRADLE--The Children Foundation, says
the vast majority of rapes--80 percent--occurs in low-income, crowded
neighborhoods where families share single rooms that offer no privacy for
parents and their children.


Odhiambo says that while the topic of rape has been traditionally hushed, the
media has substantially increased their reporting of the crime and some
survivors are now talking about their experiences and even seeking media
attention.


Ogodo is a Nairobi-based journalist who writes extensively on human rights
issues.


Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors at womensenews.org.

For more information:


Amnesty International
"Kenya: Rape-the Invisible Crime":
http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR320012002?open&of=ENG-KEN


Coalition of Violence Against Women--Kenya:
http://www.covaw.or.ke/html/publications.html


Care International in Kenya:
http://www.care.or.ke/




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