Reform criminal justice system, GBV policies

Reform criminal justice system, GBV policies

People at a seminar on gender-based violence.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President Uhuru Kenyatta made a commitment during the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) that the government would strive to end teenage pregnancies, child marriages and new adolescent and youth HIV infections by 2030.

For such a bold promise to become a reality, the government needs to integrate interventions for these issues in all development plans and policies at all levels. There’s need to ensure everybody counts, can access justice, as well as accurate and timely information.

According to a 2021 report by the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD), the country has recorded a spike in pregnancies among adolescents. At the same time, at least 5,492 new HIV infections were recorded in 17 counties between January and October. Around 1,473 HIV related deaths were recorded from the same age group.

Article 48 of our constitution commits the state to ensure that everybody has access to justice regardless of their financial status. In Migori County, for instance, a number of perpetrators are walking freely because most victims’ families can’t access justice as they can’t afford good representation. This, coupled with shallow police investigations, has contributed to the dismissal of cases due to “lack of evidence”.

Further, releasing suspects back to the community creates room for them to escape or threaten survivors to withdraw cases, since there is no witness protection programmes or safe houses for them.

At the same time, delayed court proceedings often lead to cancelation of cases because of either failure to attend all sessions or financial constraints.

The constitution grants all Kenyans the right to access information, yet most young people and parents have no access to critical issues about sexual and reproductive health. Most cases are not reported because of lack of ignorance.

Acknowledging the efforts of the government in scaling up adolescent and youth-friendly services across the country, the state still needs to ensure that reporting procedures for sexual gender-based violence cases in police stations are friendly to the youth. Police should ensure survivors protection and strong surveillance to prevent perpetrators from escaping. Officers should also take the lead in tabling timely and accurate evidence before courts.

Beyond raising awareness, the national and county governments should allocate adequate funds to help in the implementation of the SGBV policies. Devolved units should invest in more rescue centres for SGBV victims as well as psycho-social counselling and legal aid.

Our judiciary should flag and rein in corrupt activities that may hinder justice to victims of SGBV.

Elijah Magaiwa, Nairobi