In March this year, three appellate judges caused a storm when they proposed that the law be reviewed to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16 years.
Judges Roselyn Nambuye, Daniel Musinga and Patrick Kiage ruled that time was ripe for Kenya to consider changing the Sexual Offences Act, citing lengthy jail terms imposed on young men convicted of defilement.
At the same time, the judges reversed a 15-year sentence that a man was serving for making a 17-year-old girl pregnant.
The ruling prompted protests from parents, religious leaders, human and women’s rights activists who opposed the proposal that they considered uncalled-for.
All those opposed to the judges’ proposal of lowering the age of consent were of the view that it would worsen moral decay in the society.
It is against this backdrop that Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust (CRAWN Trust) launched a campaign aimed at safeguarding the age of sexual consent.
As a climax of their campaign, the organisation, on Monday, held a consultative forum in Nairobi, which brought together parents, religious leaders, doctors, MPs, the media, human rights and gender activists and education officials to deliberate on the matter.
According to the organisation, the campaign is aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse and the consequences of early sexual activity.
They argued that the “simple yes” given by a child (a person under 18 years) should not be taken to mean it is informed consent.
“The proposal to reduce the age of consent is thus ill-advised, illegal, and unconstitutional and should not be implemented,” said Lilian Kang’ethe, programmes manager at CRAWN Trust.
The organisation says the advisory by the appellate court sought to protect ‘young men’ who are adults between the ages of 18 and 21 years.
According to the organisation, figures from the prisons department reveal that of sexual offenders convicted under the Sexual Offences Act, 2006, 1,614 are below the age of 25.
Of this number, there are five minors all of who are male, 16 females and 1,593 males between the age of 18-25. The minors are currently being held at Kamiti Maximum Prison.
Some of the participants at the forum believe that lowering the consent age will lead to increased teenage pregnancies and abortions.
According to National Council for Population Development (NCPD), between July 2016 and June 2017, 378,397 pregnant girls aged between 10-19 were presented in health facilities in all the 47 counties.
Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) report of 2014 reveals that 62.7 per cent of girls and 54.4 per cent of boys aged 15-19 had never had sex.
The report further states that 10.7 per cent of girls and 19.6 per cent of boys aged 15-19 have had first sexual encounter.
Supreme Court Judge Njoki Ndung’u, the architect of the Sexual Offences Act 2006, termed the calls to amend the Act uncalled-for.
“In the past we had a scenario where judicial officers would sentence rape suspects to one day or put them under probation,” the judge said. “Minimum sentencing in the Act was given to act as a deterrent to sex pests.”
CRAWN Trust Executive Director Daisy Amdany said the appellate judges erred in their conclusion to lower the age of consent since, from her organisation’s findings, the assertion that ‘young men’ were languishing in jail because of the Sexual Offences Act was found to be false.
“The proposal also falls foul of the Children’s Act and the Constitution, which recognise the age of maturity as 18 years and seeks to protect our children,” she said.
Catholic Archbishop of Kisumu Philip Anyolo said underage boys and girls should not be exposed to, or given the freedom to have sex.