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A Culture of Corruption and Violence

By Jessie Bowers


Content Warning: this is a caution, or trigger warning, for some of the topics that will be discussed. This topic includes things such as: sexual assault, assault of a minor, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and police brutality.


A Culture of Corruption and Violence

The continued disconnect between progressive legislation and practical application by the Kenyan government will lead to the continuation of human rights abuses and the violation of the women and children of Kenya. The corruption that runs rampant throughout the Kenyan government will create national security threats and economic failure as the government has continued to disproportionately disenfranchise the majority of their population by treating women as second-class citizens and children as a nascence.

Kenya inherited legacies left behind by brutal regimes of colonial oppression and racial domination, each of which were challenged by armed resistance. The violence following Kenya’s independence and beyond was echoes of the past. The mistakes of the past, however, are not an excuse for the corruption of the present that has led to crippling poverty and a culture of normalized violence, specifically against women and children.


Government Corruption

Kenya was once known as an icon, a bastion of political stability and economic prosperity within Africa. Following the nation’s independence in 1963, the newly formed government produced numerous forms of progressive legislation and joined various international committees such as the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Child Prostitution and Pornography. Similarly, within the numerous rewrites of the county’s constitution, the Kenyan government added ten different amendments that protected the rights of women and children, including The Children’s Act, Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, Employment Act, Sexual Offences Act, Trafficking of Persons Act, Marriage Act, Evidence Act, Basic Education Act, Alcohol Drinks Control Act, and the Refugee Act.


From the outside looking in, one may think that the Kenyan government had mastered the ability to protect their civilians while simultaneously growing their economy and infrastructure. The façade that the government had worked hard to perpetuate came crashing down following the widely disputed election of 2007. The nation erupted in mass violence that left 1,500 people dead and more than 600,000 internally displaced people. [1] While this was not the first wave of violence following a political election, this was by far the worst and grabbed the attention of the international community. For the first time, on a mass scale, the international community began

to recognize the massive disconnect between Kenya’s progressive legislation and its practical application, or lack thereof.


Despite the unraveling of Kenya’s façade in 2007 and the eruption of violence afterwards, the violent monstrosities that took place were not caused by the 2007 political transition, but rather a history of violence. Kenya inherited legacies left behind by brutal regimes of colonial oppression and racial domination, each of which were challenged by armed resistance. The violence of 2007 and beyond was echoes of the past. The mistakes of the past, however, are not an excuse for the corruption of the present that has led to crippling poverty and a culture of normalized violence, specifically against women and children.


The Perpetual Victims of Violence

In November of 2008, the UN Committee Against Torture came together to identify the main problems that had completely devastated Kenya. The committee identified four major issues that encompassed the majority of the shortcoming of the government and Kenyan leadership. The first issue examined Kenya’s weak legislative framework that led to government failure to fully transition their progressive legislation into practical application. The second issue was the prevalence of torture, violence, and excessive use of force by police and other security forces as a common and widespread phenomenon throughout the nation. Following the 2007 election and eruption of violence, the torture and excessive use of force by the police drastically escalated. In an interview, a woman from the Kisumu area stated:


The police beat up everybody; they never bothered whether one was young or old, man or woman. The police also attacked houses and raped women. They also forced the husbands they found in these houses to rape their children as the women watched. Later, they raped the women in front of their husbands. What took place during that time can only be referred to as an abomination.” [2]

Police officers are not properly trained to deal with sexual and gender-based violence and often ridicule women for reporting. Domestic violence and marital rape are considered private issues and often police officers’ resort to rape as a way to teach a woman her place.


The third issue focused on gender-based violence and violence against children, more specifically highlighting the vulnerability of children to physical and sexual assault while simultaneously being seen as offenders, criminalized and frequently arrested and beaten by the police. Since its independence, Kenya’s demographics have been disproportionately young with around 40 percent of the country’s 48 million people being under the age of 15. [3] The young population coupled with political corruption has led to an increase in child exploitation, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and street children. According to Human Rights Watch, by the time a child reaches the age of 18, 73 percent of boys and 66 percent of girls have experienced physical violence; of those who have experienced physical violence, less than 10 percent will seek help. 18 percent of boys and 32 percent of girls have experienced sexual abuse; of the girls that experienced sexual abuse, 30 percent of them become pregnant. 32 percent of boys and 66 percent of girls will have experienced emotional violence. Sadly, 9 percent of boys and 13 percent of girls experience all three assaults.


The fourth and final major issue highlighted by the UN Committee Against Torture was in regard to women. Cultural norms and traditions, as well as de jure discrimination regarding their role in society as second-class citizens, has led to the perpetuation of violence against women. A 2014 survey stated that 42 percent of women and 36 percent of men believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she burns food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children, or refuses sexual relations.

On January 25, 2008 the IRIN news reported that children and women have borne the worst violence in Kenya. [4] Because of the normalization surrounding gender-based attacks, most of them go unreported or unpunished which has led to a lack of confidence in government response, further inhibiting women from reporting in the future. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) stated that the “state party has not taken sustained and systematic action to modify or eliminate stereotypes and negative cultural practices and values.”


Harmful Cultural Practices

As mentioned in the second key judgment, the UN Committee Against Torture recognized that harmful cultural norms and traditions that are frequently forced upon Kenyan women and girls, specifically female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is still widely practiced throughout Kenya, especially among the Maasai, Kisii, and Somali communities that reside within the nation. Despite the enactment of the Children’s Act in 2001, which specifically prohibits FGM, the practice continues. If not forced to undergo the procedure as a child, women over the age of 18 are usually pressured or forced to undergo FGM, either by their husband or the village women. A newspaper article reported that over 90 percent of all women over 20 years old in the Laikipia North District of Kenya are circumcised. [5] In predominantly pastoralist communities hundreds of girls are forced to undergo circumcision every school holiday due to the cultural superstition that pregnancy before circumcision is a curse.


As a result of the cultural belief among the communities that practice FGM, girls that undergo the procedure must be immediately married, in turn creating a culture of child marriage. According to UNICEF, one and every four girls in Kenya are married before the age of 18. [6] Most girls are married as young as 15 without their consent, regardless of if they have reach puberty. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence and marital rape. Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life. In the Children Foundation, Grand Illusions, and Shattered Dreams report on the Status of Human Trafficking in Kenya, 2006 reported that the Provincial Administration, Kenyan police, and the Children’s Department have continued to fail to protect minors. The report believes that authorities would rather protect cultural norms than uphold the rule of law when addressing parents who forced their daughters to partake in FGM and child marriage.


Policy Proposals

  1. The Kenyan government should create a government office to specifically focus on the special rapporteur on sexual violence and expand the Sexual Offences Act to help fund and create women’s health centers.

By creating an office with personnel specifically trained to assist those affected by sexual and gender-based violence, it could begin to strengthen efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and children. Along with attempting to eliminate violence, the trained personnel could help deal with the aftereffects of assault by providing counseling, education on contraceptives and medical aid, along with providing legal aid to bring perpetrators to justice.

  1. Through the Basic Education Act and the Children’s Act, the government should provide greater access to education that specifically focuses on Kenyan legislation and the nation’s constitution.

Through expanding the Basic Education Act and the Children’s Act, young men and women will have a basic understanding of what their government should be offering them, and the opportunities for their future within Kenya’s legislation. By educating the youth on their rights, hope is created for socio-political change, the establishment of a more democratic system of government, and greater respect and understanding for rule of law.


 

Works Cited

[1] “Children of Kenya.” Humanium, July 8, 2020

[2] Thomas, Masinjila, and Bere. “Political transition and sexual and gender-based violence in South Africa, Kenya, and Zimbabwe: a comparative analysis.” 49.

[3] Odhiambo, Agnes. “Tackling the Violence Faced by Women and Girls in Kenya.” Human Rights Watch, October 28, 2020.

[4] UN Committee Against Torture. “Situation of Violence against Women and Children in Kenya: Implementation of the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Alternative report to the UN Committee Against Torture.”16.

[5] “Situation of Violence against Women and Children in Kenya: Implementation of the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Alternative report to the UN Committee Against Torture.” 18.

[6] “Harmful Practices,” UNICEF Kenya.






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