The ugly face of domestic violence in Kenya, and laws against it
The ugly face of domestic violence has reared up through time, places, classes, cultures and ethnic groups, in order to establish itself as a worldwide problem which occurs in many parts of the world, in various forms. Kenya is no different in this regard. The rates of domestic violence have been very high, and the lack of comprehensive laws does not make anything better.
According to a survey, which was conducted in 2003 by the Ministry of Planning, about half the women who were a part of the survey had faced domestic violence. They had faced it since the age of fifteen, and although the forms varied, they did feel the brunt of domestic violence from their own family members. Furthermore, a survey in 2008 (The Kenya Demographic Survey) suggests that 39 percent of the women who were a part of the survey had been abused by family members, and especially their partners. Various such statistical figures exist as a testament of how important it is to solve the issue of domestic violence in Kenya.
There are no comprehensive laws for the issue of domestic violence as such. Parts of domestic violence have been dealt with, in other laws in Kenya, but the issue has not had a law devoted to itself. Constitutional laws and the Penal Code have addressed this issue in parts. For example, Section 28 of the Constitution deals with the protection of the dignity and respect of every individual. Section 29 deals with freedom of the individual, and his security, as well as why these things are important rights.
The Penal Code has sections, such as sections 250, and 251. The former deals with assault against an individual, which is punishable, with imprisonment upto a year, depending on the extent of the assault , and the latter deals with assault leading to bodily harm which deserves punishment for up to five years. While these laws may help in the case of domestic violence, the do not deal with the subject itself. However, the law applies to family settings as well, and even within the bounds of family ties, these offences are punishable.
There are a couple of marriage laws which deal with the subject of domestic violence. According to the matrimonial laws, cruelty, and especially physical abuse provide legitimate grounds for divorce. Since it is a well known fact that women are more often the victims than men, woman can, through these marriage laws, escape the wife-beating which happens in a lot of the houses. In the Matrimonial Causes Act, Section 8 subsection 1(c), the partner can claim divorce on the basis of having been treated cruelly by the spouse. The Subordinate Courts (Separation and Maintenance) Act allows a woman to seek help from the court if she or her children have been treated with cruelty, or have suffered neglect in the hands of the husband.
There are international laws too, which demand countries to hone in on domestic violence in order to decrease its occurrence. However, these are not substantial enough. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights exists, and it deals with discrimination against women in particular, but the issue of domestic violence has not been addressed properly. There are organizations which give aid to women who have suffered domestic abuse. FIDA Kenya provides rehabilitation for abused women.
There have been several bills against domestic violence which have been passed, but none of them have been approved and put into action. This needs to happen soon, because just like any other country, domestic violence is not just prevalent in the form of blatant physical abuse. It exists in many forms, and they need to be done away with. The country needs to start recognizing the importance of growth in terms of human value and human dignity as well.