In a shocking development, underage sex is soon set to become a reality in Kenya. An amendment to the Sexual Offences Act seeks to reduce the age limit (now 18) for consensual sex. If the amendment sees the light of day, it will no longer be criminal to engage in sex with children above 16. The amendment is at odds with the prevalent marriage law which does not allow those below the age of 18 to marry. A combination of these will increase the likelihood of girls being impregnated and abandoned since they are not of marriageable age.

And the proponents of the amendment have come up with a baffling, twisted logic – one that seeks to “protect” boys. “The boy child has become the unintended victim of the Sexual Offences Act. A lot of teenagers are in relationships without their parents’ knowledge,” says Federation of Women Lawyers chairperson Josephine Mong’are. “If the girl’s mother does not like the fact that you have a boyfriend, they go to the police station and claim rape or defilement,” She adds.

The so-called Romeo and Juliet laws and clauses protect young adults or teenagers who have attained puberty and have willingly entered into sexual relations. However, it is a retrograde step for the African country that has traditionally been averse to women’s rights and where child and sex trafficking is a scourge. Not to mention, the horrors of genital mutilation and widespread prevalence of HIV/Aids.

In a society where early marriage and the consequent abhorrent practice of genital mutilation remains a threat for a large no. of school going girls, this could have a disastrous impact. As highlighted in our previous post, teenage girls as young as 12 are the target of young men who lure them into the nefarious web of human/sex trafficking.

If passed into law, this could increase the instances of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) especially HIV/Aids. At present, Aids is considered to be the leading cause of death in Kenya, responsible for nearly 3 in ten deaths. An estimated 1.6 million Kenyans suffer from HIV infection, according to state data from 2014. No wonder the stigma surrounding the virus is rife in the country, especially the interiors.

Given the situation, an amendment of the clause can have disastrous consequences. International agencies including the UN and organizations like WLUF are at the forefront of the fight in Kenya against trafficking. In the region where underage prostitution and heinous trafficking threats are shockingly prevalent, the fight is going to get tougher. Without a doubt, much still needs to be done with regards to education on sex, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases among girls of the country.

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