Three visiting magistrates joined their colleagues at Makindu Law Courts in Makueni on Monday for three weeks in an unprecedented move by the court to deal with a backlog of sexual offences cases, which has been building up over the last five years.
The judiciary has gone for the move as it fights to exonerate itself from blame for a spike in the insidious crime which has blighted the county.
More than 120 boda boda operators, civil servants, farmhands, teachers, traders and pastors in the county have been jailed for defilement and rape between January and last month, with Kilungu region leading in the number of such convicts.
The Makindu court station, which serves Kibwezi and Nzaui regions, has recorded the highest number of unresolved sexual offences cases in the county.
The cases have been piling up since 2014, according to court records seen by the Nation, and have jolted government agencies and county leaders into action.
230 SEXUAL OFFENCES
The delays in the cases is “a defeat in the dispensation of justice”, according to Ms Monicah Owenga, the county director of the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mandera Principal Magistrate Edward Too and his counterparts Temba Sitati (Lamu) and Charles Mayamba (Kilingu) will assist the Makindu Principal Magistrate Jared Magori, and resident magistrates Damaris Karani and Annastacia Ndung’u in handling the more than 230 sexual offences cases pending at the station.
“A total of six courts will be sitting at Makindu Law Courts for three weeks to roll back on the pending sexual offences cases,” Mr Magori said on Monday.
“We expect to solve as many cases as possible within the period.”
Those lined up for trial during that period include Mathew Muumbu, a former headmaster accused alongside 20 other men of defiling and impregnating a minor.
Mr Mayamba, who was handling the matter initially, recused himself in November last year after he had quickly convicted and jailed for life Nzomo Mang’atha, a stone mason convicted of defiling the 16-year-old and helping her procure a backstreet abortion that had left the minor fighting for her life.
The county leadership and government agencies have come out strongly in calling out the perpetrators of the vices which have debilitated the region.
Makueni County Commissioner Mohammed Maalim and Woman Representative Rose Museo have been holding joint barazas across the county to retool chiefs, their assistants and the police on combating sexual offences.
Mr Maalim has issued a stern warning to administrators abetting and condoning the use of kangaroo courts to solve sexual offences cases.
NEW POLICE STATION
A new police station commissioned last month at Kyambeke market is among the measures Kaiti MP Joshua Kimilu, through the area CDF kitty, has put in place to address sexual offences in his area.
The latest incident involves the defilement and killing of a six-year-old girl in the region last month.
Two men, among them an ex-convict, have been charged with the heinous act.
Months before Makindu Law Courts mooted the idea of fast-tracking sexual offences cases, Kilungu Law Courts and the Makueni County government jointly conducted an open day at Nunguni market dedicated to raising awareness on the crime.
This was in response to uproar after the court last year jailed 48 men between 15 years to life sentence after convicting them for defilement and rape.
This was an increase from 22 men who had been jailed the year before, and had presented an upward trend which had baffled authorities and got the county leadership speaking in one voice.
The Sexual Offences Act requires that anyone convicted of defiling a minor aged 11 years and below is jailed for life.
Anyone convicted of defiling a minor aged between 12 and 15 years is jailed for 20 years, while those convicted of defiling minors aged between 16 and 17 years is jailed for 15 years.
Those found guilty of incest with a minor are jailed for life.
“I am surprised that the law does not seem to deter sexual offenders in this region because a lot of men are committing these offences knowing well that they risk spending the rest of their lives in jail,” High court judge Charles Kariuki, said during the open court session at Nunguni market.
He called on administrators, clerics and politicians to help create awareness on the seriousness of the crime.
The county government has also set up a gender violence recovery centre at Makueni County Referral Hospital in collaboration with Nairobi Women Hospital.
There are plans to set up at least one such facility in each public hospital in the county, according to Makueni Deputy Governor Adelina Mwau.
“The gender violence recovery centre has been instrumental in counselling and treating victims of sexual violence,” she said.
Ms Museo, whose office has worked with the judiciary in planning for the speeding up of sexual offences cases said the Makindu court initiative would restore the trust courts had lost.
“Other courts should emulate the innovative move by Makindu Law Courts to address backlogs,” she said.
Meanwhile, an 11-year-old boy who is said to have been sodomised by his teacher in the same region, dropped out of school and has been languishing in sickness.
The boy’s family did not pursue the matter in court after the teacher and their relative committed suicide in unclear circumstances.
The boy’s guardian told the Nation that the minor dropped out of school out of “shame”.
More than 1,200 girls of school-going age gave birth in the region last year, according to data obtained by the Nation.
The figure, which has been on the increase, has alarmed administrators, educationists and the political class.
“Investigations have shown that students and pupils are more exposed to sex pests during long holidays. Their parents and guardians should be more vigilant around this time,” Mr Kennedy Machora, Kibwezi Sub-county director of Education, told a stakeholder’s meeting at St Mary’s Girls High School, Kinyambu, recently.
SMOKING OUT OFFENDERS
Mr Machora has formed a dreaded army comprised of boda boda operators, touts, teachers and traders.
The team is tasked with being on the lookout for and smoking out sex predictors across the region.
The team, which works closely with administrators and the police, has contributed immensely in the high numbers of defilement cases reported at Makindu Law Courts.
The courts have been fighting accusations by that they collude with the police and teachers’ unions to frustrate the dispensation of justice on sexual offences cases in the county.
A team of activists from Mtito Andei region, led by Margaret Kitonyi, last year caused a stir at Makindu Law Courts when they demonstrated against delays in handling a defilement case, a complaint Mr Magori pledged to look into.
The judiciary admits that the courts have been overwhelmed by sexual offences cases.
Magistrates attribute this to a high prevalence of the offence in the region and the courts’ lean workforce.
Ms Mwau believes drug abuse and consumption of second generation alcohol are to blame for the spike in the vice.
According to Mr Magori, the high number of sexual offences cases in courts is partly caused by people who falsely accuse others of the offences with an intention of settling scores.
The Chief Officer at the Department of Gender in the county government, Ms Diana Muli, attributes the prevalence partly to an increasing level of awareness on the vice among the citizenry.
"Sexual offenses have been taking place all along. The families involved would sit among themselves and solve the disputes,” she said.