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How proposed bill plans to tighten noose on sexual offenders

National

The fight against sexual offences involving children and vulnerable groups has received a major boost after children's rights societies and parliamentarians launched the push to amend the Sexual Offences Act.

The proposed amendments are intended to take into consideration emerging trends in regard to sexual offences and technological advancements.

These are geared towards tightening the Act to protect children and vulnerable groups.

Some of the proposed amendments include the prohibition of traditional dispute resolution, barring foreigners who are sexual offenders from entering the country, making public a list of sexual offenders as well as limiting the employability of sexual offenders.

The draft Sexual Offences Amendment Bill is being fronted by The Cradle, a child rights non-governmental organisation.

“The Act was passed in 2006 and has had a lot of challenges and emerging cultural, social and technological issues," said The Cradle Executive Director Michael Wasonga.

"We didn’t have people sharing inappropriate images in social media or people blackmailing others with photos initially taken in good faith," he added.

Other amendments that are being proposed include the establishment of police-run gender desks in public hospitals, the establishment of safe houses for victims of sexual offences as well charging people who fail to report sexual offences.

The draft Bill also introduces the issue of grooming of children which is not considered as an offence in the current Act.

Grooming happens when someone methodically builds a trusting relationship with a child or young adult, to manipulate, coerce, or force the child or young adult to engage in sexual activities.

“Times have changed and we have to safeguard our children. There are a lot of people grooming our children into sexual activities but grooming of children is not considered an offence as of now,” said Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba.

Orwoba supported the proposal to have gender desks in hospitals arguing that it will ease collection and processing forensic evidence in rape or defilement cases.

She said making public the list of sexual offenders would ensure such people are not employed in spaces where they will be in contact with children or vulnerable groups such as daycare centre, centres for the old among others.

“As MPs we are going to support to amendments to safeguard the victims of sexual offences and more so we need to educate the people because anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment including men,” said Mwingi West MP Charles Nguna.

Article 159 of the Constitution permits traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, but the draft Bill proposes that sexual offences should only be heard by a competent trained judge or magistrate.

Sexual offence cases being handled by families or community elders allow offenders to give gifts to the aggrieved families in line with their cultural traditions.

If enacted into law, failure to report a sexual offence will also be actionable with the proposers putting on the spot parents and guardians who cover up relatives who defile children.

“Government needs to extend criminal liability from just the direct perpetrators and recognise that parents, teachers, medical officers who are aware of a defilement incident and conceal it should be criminalised,” said Shantal Onyango, a legal officer at The Cradle.

The Cradle is seeking legislation which will bar authorities from allowing sexual offenders into the country.

“If Kenyans themselves cannot leave the country when they have a history of sexual offending we should not equally be allowing sexual offenders from coming into the country,” said Onyango.

On the provision of safe houses, Onyango said the government should be mandated to do so to ensure the protection of the victims of sexual offences.

In the event that children are having sexual relationships with each other, the draft Bill proposes that they should be treated as children in need of care and protection under the Children’s Act in section 142, and then put through a rehabilitative and counselling process.

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