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Bill gives refuge to Nairobi gender violence victims

GBV

Activists during a past protest against domestic violence in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014 found that 45 percent of women and girls aged 15 and above had experienced physical violence and 14 percent subjected to sexual violence.
  • In the intervening years, the situation has hardly improved.
  • In fact, the current Covid-19 pandemic has only made things worse.
  • In April 2020, about a month into the pandemic, the National Council on the Administration of Justice raised the alarm, reporting that SGBV cases had risen sharply, constituting 35.8 percent of the criminal matters reported during that period.

Domestic violence is a daily reality for most women and girls, and increasingly, men across Kenya.

Sadly, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is arguably the most widespread and socially tolerated human rights violation in Kenya, making hard to end the vice.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014 found that 45 percent of women and girls aged 15 and above had experienced physical violence and 14 percent subjected to sexual violence.

In the intervening years, the situation has hardly improved. In fact, the current Covid-19 pandemic has only made things worse.

In April 2020, about a month into the pandemic, the National Council on the Administration of Justice raised the alarm, reporting that SGBV cases had risen sharply, constituting 35.8 percent of the criminal matters reported during that period.

“In some cases, the perpetrators of such offences are close relatives, guardians and/or persons living with the victims,” its report stated, highlighting the precarious position the health crisis that brought about movement and other forms of restrictions has placed the victims.

The increase in SGBV cases is despite the enactment of various policy and legislative measures to curb the vice including the Sexual Offences Act (2006), the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act (2006), the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2011), the Employment Act (2007), the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (2015), and the National Policy on the Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence.

Sensitisation

And now Nairobi County Assembly is betting on another piece of legislation to end sexual and gender-based violence in homes and ensure that victims get the justice and proper care they deserve.

The Nairobi City County Sexual and Gender Based Management and Control Bill, 2019 sponsored by nominated MCA Wanjiru Kariuki is ambitious in its proposals that if properly implemented, should reverberate down to the ward level.

It has already undergone second reading.

Arguably, the biggest hurdle to effectively taming SGBV has been the social tolerance. Cognisant of this, the Bill vests the responsibility of sensitising the public on the impacts of the vice on the county government.

As such, if implemented in its present form, City Hall will be required to promote education on the causes, consequences, means of prevention and response to SGBV in public youth polytechnics and other county-run vocational training institutions.

The same will be cascaded down to public and private schools at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

“In conducting the educational and information campaign, the county government shall collaborate with relevant stakeholders to ensure the involvement and participation of victims and perpetrators of SGBV,” proposes the Bill.

Reporting desks

Victims are often discouraged from reporting to the police due to rampant reports of others being laughed out of police stations or forced to reconcile with their perpetrators by officers who are ill-trained.

“Even if they report these cases to the police stations, the officers do not take these things seriously. One of the young women who had a chance to go and save a child was arrested. They are told that they are inciting members of the public,” said Mellab Atema ,Deputy Minority Leader.

To cure the problem, the Bill wants the county government to establish a clear reporting and referral system to enable victims and witnesses to know to whom they should report.

This will result in establishment of SGBV desks fully equipped with toll free helplines in every ward. To incentivise victims, their right to privacy will be guaranteed.

“We do not want the installation of just desks, we are asking for fully-funded desks in the 17 constituencies in Nairobi,” said Deputy Majority Chief Whip Waithera Chege in a recent motion seeking intervention to stem the rising cases.

City Hall should also establish its own service delivery units for purposes of coordination with the national government and all relevant stakeholders. A SGBV county management committee to be established within 12 months of the operationalisation of the bill and headed by the county executive in charge of Gender and Youth Affairs shall oversee coordination.

The committee shall be comprised of the county commissioner, a disabled persons representative, two from the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, two for the youth and an expert on gender issues, among other members.

The committee will ensure there is sufficient and adequately trained staff to carry out planned interventions; undertake and promote research on sexual and gender-based violence and ensure data collection as a basis for driving high quality and more relevant service development.

“The effective coordination mechanism specific to sexual and gender-based violence shall enhance strategic capacity information sharing and management,” said Ms Kariuki.

Healthcare access

Healthcare access has always being problematic. The victims have to part with not less than Sh10,000 to be able to access outpatient services in hospitals which increases to between Sh80,000 and Sh100,000 for in-patient service, according to Ms Atema.

The Bill proposes provision of minimum package of healthcare services.

“The county government shall ensure better access to healthcare, whether public or private, and medical insurance providers facilitate access to healthcare services for the victims without unnecessary impediments,”the Bill proposes.

Safe houses

And to guarantee the safety of victims while their cases are being prosecuted, the Bill wants the county government to establish safe houses or shelters in at least one of the 17 sub-counties in Nairobi and ensure budgetary allocation for the facilities as well as a witness protection programme.

The safe houses shall offer temporary stay for victims as well as ensure access to an empowering environment through provision of psycho-social support and other programmes appropriate to a victim’s individual developmental and therapeutic needs.