In Kenya, a woman or girl is raped every 30 minutes.
Juvenile rape is an epidemic – one continually ignored by police. Despite a recent high-court ruling that found Kenyan police are failing to investigate the crimes, officers continue to turn a blind eye to sexual assaults.
Of the country's school age children, up to 68 per cent of girls and 54 per cent of boys have been subjected to some kind of forceful sex. At least 165 children are raped in the country every month.
The perpetrators of these atrocious acts include some who are guided by the devastatingly inaccurate belief that sex with a virgin is a cure for HIV/AIDS.
Ripples International of Kenya and the Equality Effect of Canada challenged the systemic ignorance of the police and filed a case on behalf of 160 girls, a number that rose to 260 as the trial approached, who had been raped and ignored by police. In a landmark ruling applauded across the world, the Meru High Court of Kenya found police failed to do their jobs and ordered them to begin upholding Kenya’s strict anti-rape laws.
The court ordered the police to conduct “prompt, effective, proper and professional investigations” into “defilement,” the legal term in Kenya for rape of a person under 18.
This triumphant case of “160 Girls” is ground breaking for girls in Kenya and internationally. Devastatingly, however, the police continue to be dismissive of complaints.
Recently, a rural Kenyan family brought their 18-month-old daughter to the nearest police station in Meru – the town at the heart of the historic judgment – to report her rape. The response from officers? The case is too old, they told the girl’s parents, and there were no witnesses. Case closed. An investigation is necessary before police would even make those conclusions. But police refused, again, to probe the case.
Determined to implement the court’s recent decision despite persistent ignorance by the police, the two groups who first pushed the issue in front of a judge are threatening to take the country’s police back to court.
Fiona Sampson, Equality Effect’s executive director is optimistic the recent gains against juvenile rape will not be undone. Existing laws, she says, are sufficient to prosecute crimes – if the justice system has a willing partner in police.
“The system is not broken,” Ms. Sampson says. “It can work.”
“Police just have to do their jobs.”
The involved organizations’ staff will be monitoring the police’s required re-investigation of the petitioners in the “160 Girls” case, as well as how the police deal with new cases of defilement. They’ll also hold police to their court-ordered requirements to investigate new cases, and make sure officers are trained in and applying human rights standards.
On top of that, the groups are working on educating the public about the magnitude of rape in Kenya and the meaning of the recent court victory. They are mounting a massive rape awareness campaign complete with TV, radio, newspaper, and billboard. The designs of the campaigns are well under way, keeping in mind how to reach those who are illiterate, and the 79 per cent of Kenyans who live in rural areas.
In September, the country’s top marathon runners will race for girl’s rights in support of the court case. Some of the girls involved in the case will run part of the marathon with the athletes: a pairing of legal and sport champions. It will be the world’s first ever marathon for girls’ human rights.
The case has also created interest in countries battling their own problems of rape. Groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and Nepal, have all contacted Ripples and Equality Effect for help on how to create a similar groundswell in their country.
The successful court ruling was just the beginning for anti-rape crusaders in Kenya and the girls of the case who shouldered the pain most intimately. The real work, valuing Kenya’s women enough to protect them, begins.
The day the police end their systemic discrimination towards girl victims, the rights of these girls will no longer be abstract concepts written within Kenyan legislation.
Haley Hrymak is a law student at the University of Manitoba