Nairobi, Kenya—Violent crime in Kenya is escalating, and these days when there is a robbery or a carjacking often, tragically, there is someone raped as well. Stories of children attacked and raped appear in the country’s newspapers every day.
Sickened by what has become the norm in violent crime here, a group of women lawyers, members of Parliament and advocates for the protection of women and children have come together in support of a proposed bill for the chemical castration of sex offenders.
“This proposal has widespread support,” said Member of Parliament Njoke Ndungi, who plans to propose the motion for chemical castration next week. “People are upset about the attacks on children. There are no laws here that protect them. There are no laws against pedophilia.”
The term “chemical castration” has grabbed headlines and has sent shivers down the spines of a majority of Kenyan men.
“When it comes to castration, people think personally rather than looking at individual crimes,” said lawyer Joyce Majiwa, who supports the proposal. “We have to pinpoint prime candidates for castration and focus on those who have a single motive like attacking children.”
Chemical castration is used in the United States and Canada, often on a voluntary basis. It involves the injection of a drug called Depo-Provera, a hormonal mixture just like the contraceptive pill women take. The drug once taken by a man reduces the testosterone levels in his system, thereby reducing his sexual desires.
In July 220 cases of rape were reported, and in August that number jumped to 245. Last month the number rose to 300. These cases are occurring in a country that never appeared to have a severe problem with sexual crimes. Proponents of the bill point out that the key here is the word “reported” and that a majority of cases still go unreported due to the social stigma of a rape.
Police statistics show that the numbers of people being raped are increasing. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 1,895 cases were reported. This more than number of cases, 1,675, reported for the entire year 2000.
“Not many people would come forward to report before. Reportage is up. The incidents of rape and defilement are areas we are very concerned about. We are seeing it take a whole new dimension, and minors are being defiled like never before. This is very worrying,” said Police spokesman Jaspher Ombati.
Still women’s rights advocates say these numbers are only a shadow of the truth.
“It could be,” said Ndungi, “that more cases are being reported. But still these numbers are the tip of the iceberg.
“We do have a freer press, people are more gender sensitive, and there are more women reporting attacks . . . but still rape is on the rise,” said Ndungi.
Many here say the mythical belief that having sexual intercourse with a virgin can cure someone infected with the AIDS virus has resulted in attacks on small girls and babies.
“We see a couple of trends going on here,” said a Western doctor who has lived in Kenya for more than two decades. “You see the attacks on young girls, and that is related to the AIDS-cleansing myth. Then there is rape accompanied with violent crime and the desensitization of individuals. . . Then it is gratuitous violence,” she said.
“A third scenario is the induction into gangs. Gangs are growing in Nairobi, and often initiations include some sort of gruesome crime. Recently a 76 year-old grandmother was robbed and then raped. Why? It very well could have been an initiation.”
The doctor declined to be identified because she works with victims of violent crime and also with street gangs.
Not everyone here thinks castration, even of the chemical kind, is the answer to Kenya’s current crime wave.
“There is a general moral decadence in society. Communities have to be more vigilant,” said Peter Maura, a freelance journalist and former United Nations spokesman. “Families have to be more vigilant. There are so many poor people and they are desperate and will do anything to anybody at any time. I fail to see how castration can stop this.”
The divide between rich and poor in Kenya has been widening at an alarming rate. A report released earlier this month by the Society for International Development shows that 10 percent of the wealthiest Kenyans control more than 42 percent of incomes. For every shilling a poor person earns in Kenya, a wealthy individual makes 56 shillings.
Nearly every child in Nairobi’s Central district attends primary school, but few go on to attend high school. With a lack of education and unemployment on the rise, many teenagers have little hope for the future. Many boys join gangs and commit robberies to grab what they can while they can. These factors contribute to the rage and violence sweeping through Kenya.
Some opponents of the proposal say that not enough is being done with the current laws and that the police here have not been adequately trained to handle rape cases and therefore the perpetrators even when apprehended walk free.
“I don’t think we have even addressed the issues here,” said lawyer and editor of Kenya’s The Lawyer magazine, Mumbi Ngugi. “We have to look at the laws we have and implement them. At the moment there is no minimum sentence, so someone who rapes someone could get a few weeks or even days in prison. We also need to train the police on how to handle crime scenes.”
Whether the criminal law will be amended and chemical castration implemented is unclear, but groups moving to make Kenya a safer place have won a small battle in getting the general public talking about an issue that was once taboo.
“Even people who would not talk about rape before are doing so now. With chemical castration an issue—this has brought the topic to the fore,” said Joyce Majiwa.