In January, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) issued strong recommendations on steps the Kenyan government needs to take to improve the reproductive rights of women and girls in Kenya. The Committee’s statements echoed many of the issues raised by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Federation of Women Lawyers, Kenya (FIDA-Kenya) in a shadow letter we submitted late last year.
In its concluding observations, the Committee urged Kenya to review its restrictive abortion law, provide quality post-abortion care, improve access to contraceptives, including in rural areas, and promote sexuality education among adolescents. The Committee expressed concern about Kenya’s increasing maternal mortality rates and specifically pointed to illegal and unsafe abortion as a leading cause of maternal deaths.
The Committee also expressed concern at the high prevalence of sexual violence against women and girls. It recommended that Kenya respond to the existing culture of underreporting and impunity by criminalizing marital rape and investigating, prosecuting and punishing perpetrators of sexual violence.
In addition, the Committee addressed the sexual abuse of girls in schools by male teachers and students, barriers preventing pregnant girls from returning to school, and the impact of early and forced marriage on girls’ education.
It urged Kenya to enforce a zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse in schools and strengthen policies on readmission of pregnant girls. The Committee called on Kenya to address early marriage and discrimination within marriage by enacting, within two years, the 2007 Marriage Bill, which sets the minimum legal age of marriage at 18 years.
The Committee also urged Kenya to enact the 2010 Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Bill, which would make FGM illegal. An ongoing case, MNN v. Attorney General of Kenya, by FIDA-Kenya, in which the Center submitted a friend-of-the-court brief, focuses on this issue.
The Center and FIDA-Kenya welcome the CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations and urge the Kenyan government to promptly implement the recommendations.