Suggestions to lower the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years met stiff opposition during a multi-sectoral consultative forum to discuss child welfare. The Commission put up a strong voice against the proposal which it contends could undermine the best interests of a child irreversibly.
In March this year, the Court of Appeal proposed a law change to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16 years. The rationale for lowering the age of consent for sex according to the judges was that underage girls and boys often willfully engage in sexual relations and that although they may not have attained the age of maturity, they may well have reached the age of discretion and are able to make intelligent and informed decisions about their lives and their bodies. The judges further pointed at the lengthy jail terms imposed on young men convicted of defilement.
But the Commission rejected this assertion and faulted the judges saying the proposal flew in the face of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of a child, including regional and international conventions that seek to promote the welfare of children.
Leading the voices against the proposal, Chairperson Dr. Joyce Mutinda said it would be simplistic to lower the age of consent for sex ostensibly to shield the girl child while in actual fact boys are being sexually molested as well adding that statistics do indicate that young boys are increasingly becoming targets of sexual violence.
Principal Secretary at the State department of Gender Ms. Safina Kwekwe tore into the proposal saying the consequences of such a move would adversely affect the transition rate in schools. “A girl who is 16 years is in Form 1 or 2 and is in need of parental protection, support and care.” Said Kwekwe.
Kwekwe said, even though some countries have lowered the age of consent for sex to as low as 11 years of age, their circumstances differ remarkably from those in Kenya and as such, their rationale cannot be applied to justify lowering the age of consent.
The forum which brought together State and non-State actors working on children issues was unanimous in its rejection on attempts to lower the age of consent for sex. Speaker after speaker criticized the proposal saying it would water down efforts to end sexual and gender based violence and even promote predatory sexual habits against minors.
Experts on children’s issues were particularly concerned at the radical nature of the proposal saying, it was bound to affect other aspects outside sexual consent, including civil registration and exposure to criminal liability all which put children at great risk.
Through the forum, the Commission will coordinate the development of a position paper on the age of consent for sex which will be part of an advisory to the policies and laws to protect the vulnerable girls and boys.
“This forum has straight forward objectives which include enhancing stakeholder’s understanding on international and national legislative and policy framework on sexual violence, interrogating the age of sexual consent in the Kenyan law and exploring its effect on girl and boy child and most importantly developing an unequivocal position paper on the age of consent in Kenya”. Said Dr. Mutinda adding that the whole discourse should be guided by the principle of the best interest of the child in deciding whether to lower the age of consent or to adopt other strategies such as legal consent.