Hope for SGBV survivors with the launch of Specialized SGBV Courts

July 10, 2023by CREAW

Two years ago in 2021, I was honored to attend the inaugural luncheon for Lady chief Justice Martha Koome. This appointment presented us with an opportunity to not only reflect on what the journey of women in leadership has been but also to celebrate the achievements so far and inspire other women to seek for leadership positions. Additionally, this luncheon offered us an opportunity as a collective of gender equality advocates to identify the priority areas that the Chief Justice could focus on as she transforms the Judiciary for gender Justice.

It is in this regard that, the women of Kenya under the auspices of Common Women Agenda through a consultative process identified seven priority areas in order to accelerate attainment of gender justice in Kenya. Priority five focused on “facilitate establishment of special courts to timely dispense with matters of sexual and Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Further make available the register of sexual convicts as per the sexual offences Act (SOA)”

The seven priority actions presented to the Chief Justice in 2021
The seven priority actions presented to the Chief Justice in 2021

As an organization (CREAWKenya) that continues to support access to justice particularly for the most vulnerable women and girls survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), we know that children and women have borne the brunt of the structural inequalities within the justice system which have inadvertently continued to perpetuate their marginalization. The quest for justice for this vulnerable group has for many years have been encumbered by numerous institutional, social and structural barriers. This state of affairs has resulted in a growing backlog of sexual offenses/SGBV cases as well as cases touching on children.

Further, access to justice for the survivors still remains a challenge. Survivors have had to contend with extended psychological trauma, costly litigation and lengthy court processes leading to high attrition levels due to survivors and witnesses resiling and entering into out-of-court compromises. In some cases, gender bias and societal norms influence the decisions taken by the criminal justice system which further add to the problems faced by litigants

That said and in order to address this situation, the Judiciary though the leadership of Lady Chief Justice Martha Koome set out to establish specialized courts on children and SGBV matters so as to ensure that these special categories of vulnerable people are able to access judicial services which are sensitive to their needs including expedited case processing, reduced re-traumatization and increased victim protection. The Judiciary has so far established three specialized courts on children and SGBV. This started off in Shanzu Mombasa county and last week Judiciary designated an SGBV Court in Siaya Law Courts  and another in Kisumu Law Courts.

In the same breadth on Monday 26th June, we witnessed another milestone, the launch of the SGBV Court Strategy. This strategy is aimed at embedding a survivors-centered approach in the courts which means placing the needs and priorities of survivors, at the forefront of judicial responses. This is in fulfillment of the Constitution of Kenya and the Sexual Offences Act. The strategy implementation mechanism includes institutional and governance arrangements with reduced bureaucracy to ensure expedient access to justice for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

NCAJ members during the launch

Finally, the Judiciary has also automated the Sexual Offenders Register. The Sexual Offenders Register, established under the Sexual Offences Act, is a database, created by the Judiciary. It holds the records of all convicted sexual offenders, including their names, identification card numbers, the crime committed, and the age of their victim. Automation of this register means easy access to relevant authorities which enables expedited justice.

We celebrate these very significant steps to facilitate access to justice for SGBV survivors with the opening of the first specialised SGBV Courts in Shanzu, Mombasa, SiayaKisumu Law Courts and now in Kibera and Makadara Law Courts. We also take note of the Lady Chief Justice’s promise to implement the specialized SGBV courts in Machakos, Kiambu, Trans-Nzoia, Meru, Kisii, Kakamega and Nakuru.

We are cognizant of the men and women who have been instrumental in making this strategy a reality, special shoutout to Dr. Kizzie Shako and Eva Komba for their relentless push towards getting this 7-year strategy delivered.

We remain optimistic that the landscape of handling SGBV cases in Kenya is beginning to change for the better especially with the launch of the launch of the SGBV Court Strategy and automated the Sexual Offenders Register.

Written By: Wangechi Wachira, Executive Director (CREAW)