Law to save SGBV victims in the offing

NGEC Chairperson, Winnie Lichuma (green dotted dress) with Roberts Athewa, Joy Bigamba and Joyce Majiwa.
NGEC Chairperson, Winnie Lichuma (green dotted dress) with Roberts Athewa, Joy Bigamba and Joyce Majiwa.

A draft law to implement how to address, prevent and protect victims of sexual and gender based violence in the 47 counties is in its final stage.

Plans are also afoot to use one of the Nairobi MCAs (Member of the County Assembly) to move it for debate and vote as a test case for the other 46 counties.

The draft model legislative framework on Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is the work of a high-powered national Gender Based Violence (GBV) Working Group who held a one-day meeting to have it fine tuned

The group has been working around the clock on the draft for the past one year with the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC led by Chairperson Winnie Lichuma.

“This draft law is focusing on the implementation of the SGBV and not the law per se which is already there. We have had 17 of the 47 Counties come on board by signing the ‘Keeping the Promise’ pledge to implement GBV campaigns in their respective areas,” says Lichuma.

According to Lichuma, most Governors say they are unable to implement GBV programmes for lack of a legislative framework and a GBV unit that is to be fully funded by the exchequer.

Noting that the country has only three forensic laboratories in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, to serve the 47 counties, NGEC is now appealing for more laboratories to be built in the other 44 counties. NGEC notes that most SGBV cases collapse due to lack of evidence at the initial stages of investigations.

Addressing members of the GBV Working Group, Lichuma said: “There is good news from Nairobi County Assembly where one of its MCAs has offered to move the Draft Bill as a test case for the other counties.”

Lawyer Dr Ruth Aura, addressing SGBV Working Group meeting at Sarova Stanley, Nairobi.

Lawyer Dr Ruth Aura, addressing SGBV Working Group meeting at Sarova Stanley, Nairobi.

The over 50 members of the GBV Working Group held the meeting in Nairobi, and were also addressed by lawyers Ruth Aura and Joyce Majiwa among others as fine-tuned the document.

Those in attendance were officials from Nairobi County government, AMREF Health Africa, Amani Counselling Centre, AKAD Education Group, Physicians for Human Rights, the Judiciary, Kenya National Teachers Service and Jamii Thabiti Programme among others.

The Draft Bill is in six sections: the preliminary; the administration of justice; Sexual and Gender Based Violence County Management; SGBV education and information; access to healthcare; safe houses/shelter; and finally funding.

The object and purpose of the Act is to: “Promote public awareness about the causes, impacts, consequences, means of prevention and response to SGBV; to provide protection to victims of SGBV in line with existing laws by — prohibiting harmful and traditional practices; outlawing gender discrimination in all its forms and subtitles; guaranteeing the right to privacy of the individual; ensuring the provision of basic healthcare services; ensuring the provision of psych-social support including guidance and counselling to victims of SGBV; guaranteeing availability of safe houses/shelters.

The proposed SGBV management committee shall consist of members appointed by the Governor with the chair being the CEC responsible for youth and gender affairs. Other members would be one person representing CEC Finance and another CEC for Health; one person having specialised skill or knowledge on gender issues; two persons representing NGOs/CSOs; one person each representing the religious groups, the youth (female and male); one person representing persons with disabilities; and any other persons that the committee members may co-opt.

The draft law also seeks to positively address and seek to eradicate conditions that aggravate SGBV by promoting and advocating for social justice.

Another objective is to support and facilitate the gathering of disaggregated data by age, sex and disability.

Aura clarified that the law does not allow a shelter and/or safe house to be used by a survivor for more than six months.  This is due to budgetary constraints and also to allow other victims to also use the facility.

Some of the major issues that were raised and discussed candidly on SGBV and the draft law included rape, economic violence, sex slavery, role of the Children’s Department in protecting the young from sex predicators; witness protection within the judicial system, wife inheritance, forced marriages and freedom of choice as far as sex and sexuality is concerned.

The other issues were: what is the age of a youth as far as SGBV and the law is concerned? Cases of teenage sex by consenting partners; why is the law harsher on boys than girls who accept to have intercourse?

Aura, who is a Nakuru-based lawyer noted: “The draft is good and is spot on what it intends to address. However, in legislation drafting you don’t leave your intention for someone else to interpret, say it as it is.”

Meanwhile, a Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) official requested the county governments to consider setting up a kitty to support SGBV victims by using pro-bono lawyers. A handful of NGOs have been assisting on this front and they include Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Legal Resource Centre and Kituo Cha Sheria among others.

An official from the Nairobi County government, Roselyn Mkabana, announced that they are a step ahead of most of the 47 counties by setting up an SGBV County Management Committee.