Loopholes in Sexual Offences Act to be addressed through amendment

Main photo: The Sexual Offences Amendment Act is set for discussions in the National Assembly after the Bill was presented by Hon Florence Mutua. Photo: Andrew Kilonzi
Main photo: The Sexual Offences Amendment Act is set for discussions in the National Assembly after the Bill was presented by Hon Florence Mutua. Photo: Andrew Kilonzi

When the then nominated Member of Parliament Njoki Ndung’u moved the Sexual Offences Bill, it took a lot of lobbying to have it enacted.

The Sexual Offences Act 2006 was a landmark law in Kenya simply for the fact that it was going to address an area that no one dared tread. Rape, defilement and incest remain core forms of sexual violence with women and girls being disproportionately affected and men being lead perpetrators.

The Sexual Offences Act 2006 is an Act of Parliament to make provision on sexual offences, their definition, prevention and the protection of all persons from unlawful sexual acts, and for connected purposes.

Now the Sexual Offences Act has been reintroduced through an amendment before the floor of the National Assembly.

Justice

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 2016 has been moved by Hon Florence Mutua, Member of Parliament for Busia County. With the high number of sexual violations being reported especially at the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, it is hoped that the proposed amendments will guarantee justice for victims and survivors.

The GVRC, a partner of the Africa UNiTE Kenya Chapter notes that over the years, figures keep going up. Statistics from GVRC indicate that the total number of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) cases reported in 2014-2015 were 3,247. The cases almost tripled from 2013-2014. The report notes there was an explosion of domestic violence reported during the same period from 488 in 2014 to 1,798 in 2015.

Introducing stringent measures

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 2016 seeks to devolve the functions of handling the sexual violations to the counties. It concerns counties and county governments.

The Bill has also introduced stringent measures that will make sure that perpetrators are not let off the hook as has been the case. In many communities families negotiate with perpetrators to settle cases out of court.

Mutua says: “The primary objective of this Bill is to amend the Sexual Offences Act to expressly prohibit plea bargaining and collision in sexual offences which help the perpetrators of sexual violations to evade justice.”

Creation of special units

The Bill seeks to have gender desks in police stations strengthened. Mutua notes: “The Bill proposes to create special units in at least one police station per county to handle sexual offences.”

The units, the Bill proposes, will have modern equipment and facilities for timely investigations. The officers handling these cases will be specifically trained in investigating sexual offences.

There have been calls among advocates in the war on sexual and gender based violence for the establishment of a special unit that will specifically handle the vice. The calls for a Gender Crimes Unit have been ongoing for a long time and the proposal by Mutua is timely.

It is hoped that Members of the National Assembly will not water down the proposed amendments but ensure that justice is delivered in sexual violence. This will deter offenders and help in the reduction of the number of SGBV cases.

Creating awareness through education

While lack of knowledge on what one is expected to do after sexual violence has happened has led to survivors not having evidence to prove that violations happened in courts, the Bill is proposing that public awareness on sexual offences be created. It must be remembered the law is categorical that ignorance is no defence.

The Bill provides for national and county governments to promote public awareness in sexual offences through comprehensive nation-wide education and information campaign conducted through relevant ministries, departments, authorities and other agencies.

Many times magistrates and prosecutors as well as lawyers have used the argument that ‘ignorance is no defence’. Hopefully through access to the right information, victims, survivors and perpetrators will have the right information that will help Kenyan women and promote respect among men and women.

County government to join in the war

“The education and information campaign shall focus on sexual offences and shall be carried out in all schools and other institutions of learning, all prison remand homes and other places of confinement, amongst disciplined forces, at all places of work and in all communities in Kenya.”

Article 40 (c) (3) of the proposed amendment indicates: “Every local authority, in collaboration with civil society and the Ministry responsible shall conduct education and information campaigns on sexual offences within its area of jurisdiction.”

The Bill also wants knowledge to be started from the lowest point possible and this is in schools. “The Bill compels the Ministry of Education to provide education and prescribe guidelines on the inclusion of sex education on the sexual offences through the school syllabus.”

This is taken from the recognition that children are no longer safe at home and in schools. It’s important that they have the right information which can help them not only to report but be alert around family members and people who are close to them like neighbours who are mainly the perpetrators.

If these amendments are adopted, sexual offences will be addressed at all levels of government and more responsibility as to who deals with them will be in the hands of Kenyans.