Good laws alone can’t protect Kenyan girls from sexual violence

For a stark example of the low value placed on girls in Kenya, you need look no further than the brutal gang rape of a 16-year-old girl who was attacked by six men as she walked home from her grandfather’s funeral in Busia County, Western Kenya, in June 2013.

After a sustained and violent sexual assault, her unconscious body was tossed into a pit latrine. Although she survived, the girl was left traumatized and wheelchair bound with a broken spine and extreme case of obstetric fistula.

Not only was the rape horrendous, but so was the response that followed from local authorities. After identifying some of her attackers, the police arrested the perpetrators and as punishment three were sentenced to cut the grass outside the police station and then released from custody.

Outraged by the injustice, local women’s rights activists joined forces with Kenyan journalists, Equality Now and the international campaigning organization Avaaz to shine a spotlight on the case. This led to over two million people signing a petition calling for #justiceforLiz – which used the pseudonym given to the girl by the journalist who initially reported her attack.

Kenya has very good legislation against sexual violence in place: the challenge is in implementation. Liz’s case exposed the weakness in Kenya’s legal system, where the sensitive treatment of survivors of sexual violence is severely lacking and the successful prosecution of perpetrators is rare. It’s evident that having adequate laws is one thing, enforcing them effectively is another.

A recent report by Equality Now, The World’s Shame, The Global Rape Epidemic, sheds light on how unjust rape laws in countries around the world are failing to protect women and girls.

The report highlights how Liz’s case was delayed by a prosecution process riddled with challenges. The response by the Kenyan authorities was one that is all too common when it comes to crimes of sexual violence, which are often not taken seriously.

As part of the #justiceforLiz campaign, 70 additional rape cases were brought to the attention of Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions by Equality Now’s partners. A lack of protocols and policies on how police and hospitals deal with sexual assault victims, poorly equipped police stations, and victim blaming, are among the serious issues which delay or deny justice to those who have been attacked.

After two years of intensive grassroots advocacy and public pressure, in April, 2015, Liz finally got some justice when three of her six attackers were convicted for rape and causing grievous harm. The perpetrators who were initially freed by the police were each sentenced to 15 years in prison, however, the remaining three remain on the run and unpunished.
Kenya has made great strides in enacting national laws that seek to protect the rights of women and girls from all forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). The most notable legislation is the Sexual Offences Act No. 3 of 2006 that makes comprehensive provision of sexual offences, their definition, prevention and protection of all persons from harmful and unlawful sexual acts.

Article 29 (c) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which is the supreme law of the land, provides that every person has the right to freedom and security of the person. This includes the right not to be subjected to any form of violence from either public or private sources.

The outcome of Liz’s case has been is hailed as a breakthrough in Kenya’s justice system, but it has come at a high cost for Liz and her family, who have been forced into hiding and are now under the protection of Kenya’s Witness Protection Programme because of reprisal attacks by members of their community and threats from the men’s families.
Witness Protection Act (CAP 79) provides for the establishment of this protection programme. In cases of SGBV where victims and witnesses face threats, the Witness Protection Agency is placed at the forefront in ensuring their safety and security.

Kenya has also ratified numerous international and regional instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and the Maputo Protocol. By virtue of the provisions of Article 2 (6) of Constitution of Kenya 2010, any treaty or convention ratified by Kenya shall form part of the law of Kenya.

In July 2017 Kenya will be a voluntary review country at the High Level Political Forum, whose theme is "Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world". Kenya should therefore be mindful of its obligations under the Sustainable Development goals (SDGs), and especially Goal 5, which is focused on achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Without a good justice system good laws remains just that, victims remain denied the justice they deserve. In Kenya, and in countries across the world, rape laws continue to fail women and girls. Sign equality now’s petition to help fix them. #TheWorldsShame

About Equality Now:

Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. Our international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sexual trafficking, sexual violence, and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Equality Now is dedicated to creating a more just world where women and girls have equal rights under the law and full enjoyment of those rights. For details of our current campaigns, please visit

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

A powerful story....