A new law in Kenya has created stricter punishments for rapists and sexual predators, but has failed to criminalize marital rape and female genital mutilation. The bill, which President Mwai Kibaki approved on July 14, was the first legal recognition of many sex crimes, including gang rape, sexual harassment, and child trafficking. The legislation also outlaws the deliberate transmission of the HIV virus.
The bill comes as a reaction to the rising number of rapes and sexual assaults committed in Kenya. While it is estimated that women are raped every half hour in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Kenya’s legal code on sexual crimes has not been significantly changed since 1930.
One of the most contentious issues is a provision in the law that imposes the same sentence on rapists and those who falsely accuse someone of rape. This clause may “deter women from coming forward [and has] shifted the burden of proof in rape cases from the accuser to the accused,” according to a statement from the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General. Kenyan women’s rights activists are especially angered by this provision of the legislation. Says Anne Njogu, director of the Centre for Women’s Rights Education and Awareness, according to allAfrica.com, “It is the same chauvinistic, paternalistic, very, very parochial attitudes towards women.”
Many are skeptical about how effective this new legislation will be in combating the rising incidences of rape. “For many rural women, it will take much more than a new law to change deeply entrenched traditions, where culturally, women have little power,” said Jack Nyagaya, a counselor who deals with cases of rape, according to allAfrica.com.