Monday, 22 June 2015 18:51

‘Thank You’, girl peer leaders from Nairobi County schools tell CJ

Written by Clifford Akumu
Over twenty girl peer leaders drawn from different schools in Nairobi posing for a photo with the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga after presenting to him a 'Thank You' card. The girls were with the Executive Director of CREAW Wangechi Wachira-Moegi. Over twenty girl peer leaders drawn from different schools in Nairobi posing for a photo with the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga after presenting to him a 'Thank You' card. The girls were with the Executive Director of CREAW Wangechi Wachira-Moegi. [Photo: Clifford Akumu]

Over twenty girl peer leaders from different schools in Nairobi County used the power of their pen to state their case on children rights, when they handed chief justice a giant ‘thank you card’.

 

Although written in faint and rather crooked handwritings their message was clear ‘congratulating the judiciary for protecting their right to education, health, dignity following a recent decision against sexual violence in schools’

Young girls, together with civil society groups visited the chief justice to mark the Day of the African child that is celebrated in June every year. This year’s theme was child marriage.

The visit comes at an opportune time when the right of the African child has been violated for far too long, a situation that has prompted the judiciary to tighten its justice nuts.

Chief Justice said that the judiciary was committed in ensuring the rights of children are protected and guaranteed as enshrined in the constitution

“We all swore as judges to uphold, promote and protect the rights of all Kenyans children included. Kenya is also a signatory to some of the treaties on child rights like, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare on the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  ” reiterated Dr.Willy Mutunga.

“I thank you for giving us this card….judiciary is always bashed and we are never thanked….but I think that it is a good culture because it is the only way that institutions will change” said Mutungawhile receiving the card in his office

Purity Adhiambo, 14, one of the peer leaders from Ayany Primary school-Kibera says that girls are always taken advantage of by people close to them.

“This vulnerability scenario doubles in slums where I come from. I thank the judiciary for giving us such a ruling. Although it does not erase the health risks, dignity of the affected, at least it will act as a deterrent to many perpetrators” said the class 8 pupil

In her school, for example, the fencing program has kept them safe for now.

“In some years back people would enter our school putting the girls at risk of gender based violence. At least we are now safe in  from outsiders” said Adhiambo who would like to become a bank accountant in future.

Wangechi Wachira-Moegi, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) director says that promoting strong sexual reproductive rights of the girl child is a prerequisite to a prosperous country.

“I have gone through the sexual offences act and I am happy to say that the judiciary has made some progress on sexual offences but there is still more to be done. This ruling is a step in the right direction” said CREAW director

Although the Teachers Service Commission secular 3 No.3 states that sexual violence is an offence, the number of gender based violence in schools is unabatedly increasing.

According to a 2013-2014 Gender Based Violence report by the Nairobi Women’s Hospital Gender Violence Recovery Centre, 36 per cent of girls bare the wrath of violence compared to boys at 5 per cent.

Sexual violence affects girls’ right to education, health and dignity. The situation worsens when the perpetrator is a would-be guardian.

“Learning institutions and individuals that get involved in such violence must face the full force of the law….or rather put measures in place to protect children because they are appointed guardians” said Kimberly M.Brown legal consultant, Equality Now

The chief justice added that his office had bolstered children rights’ by putting more weight on the implementation of the sexual offences act.

He, however, lauded the two girls who are at the centre of the case for channeling the matter to court; calling upon those affected to come out and report such cases.

“You should not allow your rights to be violated by teachers, parents or older students no matter what! All of you should stand up for your rights and report any violation attempt to the relevant authorities”the CJ cautioned the girls

CREAW director urged men, especially male teachers, to become active crusaders in defending rights of both girls and boys in their various schools.

‘We are really grateful for the precedence that the judiciary has set on sexual offences in the country that will now protect our daughters and sons from such heinous acts” said Wangeci L.Wachira

Doris Akinyi, 17, from Olympic High School says that most communities do not value girls hence making them at risks

“I have decided to write this letter to thank the Chief Justice for what they have done to the girl child” said the form three student adding that ‘her eyes were now set on becoming a psychologist to offer support to the victims.

LANDMARK RULING

The May 17th landmark decision was issued by the constitutional and human rights division of the high court regarding the liability of the state and state organs in the education sector declaring sexual and gender based violence against all students a violation of their right to health, right to education and a violation of their right to human dignity

“Perpetrators of such violence should rot in jail because of the harm they cause to the victims” said Akinyi

Delivered by Justice Mumbi Ngugi, the ruling held the state, the Teachers Service Commission, the school and the teacher vicariously liable for the harm to the two girls at the centre of this case, awarding a total of Sh5million to the girls.

Although Teachers Service Commission has appealed the judgment, Wangeci says that the great precedent setting judgment has ‘set the ball rolling before jumping back into the legal proceedings’

“I hope this case will now open the space for debate on other sexual offences that is meted on the girl child”

“I am very proud of judiciary-we are not fighting the TSC as others would like to argue, we are protecting the next generation “CREAW director said

The CJ, however, remained tight lipped on the decision saying that the appeal was still being studied by the judges.

“I am not going to talk about the decision because it might end up coming to the supreme court at some point….any comment I make on it might be misunderstood” noted CJ

This historic constitutional case was brought in 2011 by several civil society organizations in Kenya CREAW, Cradle, COVAW, Girl Child Network and the Centre for Reproductive Rights joining as interested parties or amicus.

“Culture of pursuing justice is what will make our constitution strong and one that will make you (girls) breathe life into the constitution so that your rights are protected” said Mutunga

Every year, 15 million girls under the age of 18 become brides - an average of 40,000 girls every day. Many of these girls are not in school and lack of access to education increases the chances of child, early and forced marriage.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of women with no education were married before age 18 compared to only 13% of those with secondary education.

Despite the enactment of the Marriage Act, recent statistics show that Kilifi has the highest prevalence of child marriage with 47.4 per cent, followed by Homa Bay 38 percent, Kwale 37.9 percent, Bondo 29.5 percent and Tharaka 25.3 percent.

“We have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects on girls’ mental and physical health when they are married off as children. Most of these girls have become mothers and they have been forced to drop out of school to fend for their young ones.” said Prudence Mutiso, Head of Legal Aid Cradle Foundation.

 

 

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