Sexual violence convictions a reality for Kakuma’s refugee community
On 28 May 2022, a three-year-old refugee girl from South Sudan received her long-awaited justice. Her uncle received life imprisonment for sexually abusing her while under his care.
“It was a very difficult case, since the child was very young. She refused to talk to the police and doctors,” details Ian Rono, a magistrate at Kakuma Law Court. “I decided to proceed with the case, and talked to her during the trial. It took over two hours, but luckily she talked to me. She told us everything.”
Kakuma and Kalobeyei host over 200,000 refugees with a high proportion of female-headed households. Women and girls are highly vulnerable to rights violations with frequent cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) occurring at unmanned waterpoints, during firewood collection, or in the home. The Gender-Based Violence Support Centre, located in Kakuma hospital, receives cases of rape and physical assault. “On average we receive 15-20 cases a month, mostly from young girls. But it is important to note young boys are also targeted. Last year we had 12 cases from men below 18 years,” said Gladys Muiga, Kakuma Field Coordinator, International Rescue Committee (IRC).
One element of UN Women's Leadership, Empowerment, Access & Protection in Crisis Response project is to increase protection of vulnerable refugee and host communities in Kenya. The Gender-Based Violence Support Centre supplies legal and psychosocial assistance to SGBV survivors, while partners Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) and IRC are strengthening coordination of the referral pathway, ensuring access to clinical support within 72 hours, counseling, and filling of police reports.
“We also hold legal aids clinics outside the courts, where we invite different stakeholders such as the Law Society of Kenya to sensitize the community on GBV cases, to show the community that the law works” said Rono.
Challenges to accessing justice
While the support centre receives 15-20 cases a month, this figure is far less than cases reported to the police, showing a big gap in the number of survivors accessing services. “In Kakuma we have 14 police posts that mostly handle refugee issues. And on average we receive around six cases a day,” explained Superintendent of Police, Richard Morara. “Our gender desk officers purely assist and sensitize the community about GBV, they have been trained on how to handle GBV cases."
According to Cecilia Maina, a legal consultant for RCK, fewer cases reach the court because some communities settle the cases out court, while some victims do not report for fear of being rejected by their community. “Since host community are mostly pastoralists, they move around a lot, it’s hard to follow the cases, especially if they do not have telephones. A majority drop the cases.”
Since the project started in November 2021, 31 cases have been taken to court, with 20 ongoing, and 11 concluded. Among the cases acquitted, one was found guilty of rape and six cases withdrawn.
“One ruling in favour of a GBV survivor is a big win for women and girls, especially in the refugee community,” said Idil Absiye, Women Peace and Security Specialist, UN Women Kenya. “We cannot tire, we have to continue the fight against sexual and gender-based violence.”
The Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Protection in Crisis Response (LEAP) Project, supported by the Government of Japan, has been implemented since 2018. Until 2023, the project continues to target vulnerable refugee and host communities that experience disproportionate rights violations and increased barriers to enjoying their human rights in crisis settings.