Controversial bill to lower age for sex consent rejected
When the Sexual Offences Act was enacted in 2006, it was considered a landmark law that would reduce cases of sexual abuses, harassment and violence as well as early and forced child marriages.
However, come 2016, the Kenyan National Assembly introduced an amendment to the Act seeking to reduce the age of consent from 18 year to 16.
This is in contradiction of the Constitution of Kenya (2010) which clearly says that one has to be 18 years and above in order to be considered an adult. This also means that those below 18 years are children and therefore cannot give consent on many issues. Some of the issues include sex and marriage.
Under the existing Kenyan statutory laws, it is a crime for one to engage in sex with a child.
The contentious proposals were brought in the Statute (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill by Aden Duale, MP for Garissa and Leader of Majority Party in the National Assembly.
Members of Parliament are however working on a bill that will soon make it legal to be sexually involved with a minor as the consent age is lowered to 16 years.
This amendment on the existing law may look innocent on the surface but the impact will be grave. The original intention of the amendment arose from the fact that there are so many young boys who are being held in Kenyan jails for sexual offences for having engaged in sex with girls of their age in what was termed as a “Romeo and Juliet” scenario.
However, the law says anyone found to have sexual relations with someone under 18 years is liable to conviction of not less than 15 years even if the offender is 18 and the victim 17 years.
According to the Kenyan education system, a 16-year-old girl is expected to be in Form Two or even a lower class of by any chance she may have delayed in joining school or had to repeat a class.
The result of this would have been an increased number of school dropouts due to early and unwanted pregnancies as well as unsafe abortions. However, the members of Parliament did the noble thing and rejected the amendment noting clearly that “social maturity is not the same as biological maturity”.
In rejecting the amendments former Health Permanent Secretary who is now the Member of Parliament for Seme Dr James Nyikal said: “Biological and social maturity are not the same thing. These young adults cannot take responsibility”.
He noted that reducing the age of consent to 16 goes against the laws of child development, arguing that biological maturity does not mean social maturity.
Joseph M’eruaki if Igembe North termed the amendment as dangerous. He noted: The Bill is very dangerous.” He reiterated: “It’s common knowledge that children under 16 years are still under the care of their parents.”
The amendment caused uproar among Kenyans who are questioning the motive behind the change of law. Some even took to social media platforms like twitter to express their displeasure using the hash tag #SayNoto16 .
Some religious leaders and government officials have also opposed the amendments.
“It is okay to protect children but it is wrong to handle it from the perspective of this law,” said Ezekiel Mutua, the head of Kenya Film Board while speaking with Muslim clerics in Mombasa last year.
Mutua wondered why the push now and demanded that Members of Parliament convince the public on why they should change the age of consent at this point in time.
Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa, Organising Secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, said proponents of the change of age of consent must explain their reasons well.
Opposition for the amendments came from both sides of the political divide and the sponsor of the amendments was forced to withdraw.
In adding sobriety to the debate, Nyeri Women Representative Priscilla Nyokabi, said the intention of reducing the number of boys who are suffering jail sentences should not be lost.
“The overall intent of the law was to protect women, children, boys and girls,” argued Nyokabi. She noted: “The original intent was to create a country safe for women and girls”.
She was supported by Tom Kajwang’, MP for Ruaraka who said: Can we have a sentencing policy that takes care of the brittleness of the children we are dealing with.”