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Girls safe as govt drops proposal to reduce the age of consent

The government has dropped a controversial proposal to reduce the age of consent from 18 to 16, bending to pressure from lobby groups and women MPs suspicious of the idea.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said further debate on the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill “will proceed as though the withdrawn sections were not part of the Bill”.

“I wish to inform the House that I have received a letter from the Leader of the Majority Party requestiong to withdraw the proposed amendments,” said Mr Muturi Thursday afternoon.

The proposed change had provoked the ire of female MPs when the Bill was undergoing the Second Reading last week.

Its withdrawal, however, means that advocates for a fairer way to treat boys who have sex with their age mates will be disappointed as they could have to wait for another year for the change to be introduced.

ROMEO AND JULIET

Last week, Majority Whip Katoo Ole Metito had said that a Romeo and Juliet clause would be introduced.

“In order to cure this, we shall be introducing a provision at the committee stage relative to the offence of defilement in order to avoid the perceived victimization of boys under the Act when they engage in sexual activity with their age mates referred to… you remember the Romeo and Juliet situation,” said Mr Metito last week.

The provision had, however, been opposed by women MPs, with Nyeri Woman Representative Priscilla Nyokabi leading the brigade.

She said that while there is genuine concern that the Sexual Offences Act has landed many young boys in jail for long unfairly, there is need to consider the original intention of the law.

“The overall intent of the law was to protect women, protect children and protect girls and boys. The original intent was to create a country that is safe for women and girls,” said Ms Nyokabi.

She asked women MPs to be prepared to oppose the provision to reduce the age of consent to 16.

“Eighteen is the age of consent. The attempt to reduce the age of consent I think is very worrying,” said Ms Nyokabi.

She said youthful convicts should be sent to borstal institutions rather than prisons.

FATE OF BOYS

Ruaraka MP Tom Kajwang said there are so many boys in prison for sexual crimes but asked MPs to also have in mind the fate of boys jailed for defilement, attempted rape or rape and forced to literally grow up.

“But the person who drafted this proposal did not get it right. It is the way that we deal with this,” said Mr Kajwang.

“Whereas we are talking about sexiual offences and they don’t choose the gender, can we have a sentencing policy that takes care of the brittleness of the children we are dealing with? This Bill should be subjected to thorough debate in committee,” he added.

Other MPs opposed the proposal.

Said Ken Okoth (Kibra, ODM): “We should reject the proposal. There is a lot of people involved in paedophilia and exposure of children to sexual activity. We must oppose it.”

Mr Okoth said something ought to be done in “Romeo and Juliet” scenarios, where children of the same age or within the same age range have sexual relations as it is a real scenario.

Makueni MP Daniel Maanzo asked his colleagues to be wary of the proposals as they might have come from influential individuals whose sons are in trouble because of the law.

IN DEFENCE

Fida, which defended the introduction of the proposal to lower the age of consent, had last December said the idea was to protect young men who have sexual relationships with girls who could be considered their peers.

It is referred to as a Romeo and Juliet law because in the play by William Shakespeare, the girl was aged 14. That kind of law exists in Canada, some states in the United States and South Africa.

Currently, a person who has sexual relations with someone under 18 is liable to a conviction of not less than 15 years, even if the offender is 18 and the victim 17, with judicial officers having no discretion to vary the sentence.

Mr Metito did not say how the provision would be worded but Fida chairperson Josephine Mong’are had suggested last December that the difference in age between the offender and the victim be considered.

During his interview for the job, Chief Justice David Maraga said the Sexual Offences Act is unfair to young boys who have to go to jail for long for having sex with their age mates.

“We must understand that the young boys who are punished as a result of the Sexual Offences Act are our children who are trying to discover themselves and if we continue to punish them that way, then we are doing injustice. We need to relook into that law and amend it,” Justice Maraga said at the time.

The matter was also highlighted by the Judiciary’s task force on sentencing.