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Children Continue to Get A Raw Deal
By Judith Achieng', IPS, 20 January 1998
NAIROBI, Jan 20 (IPS) -- Kenya's government continues to drag its feet on pending legislation on children's rights despite reports that child abuse is on the increase.
Incidences like last week's report on the marriage of a 13-year-old girl, and that of a mother inflicting severe burns on her three-year-old son, are among numerous cases which have child rights activists clamouring for the government to pull the Children's Draft Bill off the shelve where it has been since 1994, and re-draft it.
The Bill was shelved following protests from some quarters in civil society which said that the proposed legislation was flawed and not an adequate representation of children's rights.
Government began work on the Bill in 1991 and said it was a comprehensive document which represented the rights of children in line with international conventions and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Kenyan has not ratified the African Charter.
"In my opinion, the draft was a comprehensive and a thorough proposal of a modern children's law which was accepted by the government," said Attorney General Amos Wako.
But according to Blamwel Njururi, a media consultant with the Centre for Governance and Development, the proposed legislation treated the child "as the object of the law without claim to basic human rights".
"It portrays a child as an offender in need of discipline, but is silent on child exploitation such as child labour, sexual abuse and genital mutilation," he said.
A coalition of relevant government ministries and non-governmental organisations was formed to monitor the progress of an improved children's rights Bill.
Now that the December elections have passed, activists say one of the new government's first priorities should be to focus on the Bill and put it on a fast track to parliament, as was promised early last year.
According to the International Labour Organisation, four million or 41.3 percent of school-age children in Kenya are working.
"The African society views the child as the property of parents and by extension, the community's, and this has made children vulnerable to parental mistreatment and abuse in general," says Philista Onyango, who heads the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) based in Kenya.
"The fate of the African child and the need to protect children against all forms of abuse and neglect has therefore increasingly become dire," Onyango adds.
ANPPCAN, formed in 1986 in Nigeria, is the network through which child rights organisations advocate for the recognition and respect of the protective rights of children in Africa.
The child rights advocacy organisation is particularly concerned about the leniency courts often show towards sexual offenders of children. In a court case heard in the Central Province recently, the magistrate freed a man who had raped a six- year old girl for lack of "positive evidence".
"The existence of a venereal disease in the female is not positive evidence of sexual connection," Magistrate Kiarie Waweru said in his ruling.
Kenyan courts have not given stiff punishments to sexual offenders of children arguing that children have the ability to heal quickly.
But, "child victims end up impaired physically and psychologically throughout their lives, something which is not (often) the case with adult victims," says Onyango.
The Kenyan courts, however, claim they can do little to administer justice, unless a legislation giving more protection to children is passed.
"The law remains inadequate as far as children's rights are concerned, until the government enacts a law prescribing stiffer penalties to offenders," says Nakuru Chief Magistrate William Tuiyot.
[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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