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EDITORIAL: Let us act in the best interest of the child

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Three judges of the Court of Appeal recently called for a candid national conversation on the age of consent for sex. Citing countries where this age is pegged at 16 years or lower, the judges expressed concern that prisons are teeming with young men serving lengthy sentences for having had sex with adolescent girls, whose consent could not be taken into consideration because they were under 18.
Such a conversation is important, especially where it is felt that the law is hurting a section of the population, in this case adolescent boys. However, it must be informed by facts and guided by good intentions. Above all, any actions arising from it must be taken in the best interest of the child — bearing in mind that Kenya has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and domesticated it by enacting the Children Act.

PREYING
Statistics paint a grim picture of Kenya’s young and emphasise the need for our children and adolescents to be protected from sexually abusive and exploitative relationships.
According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2014), about 32 per cent of girls and 18 per cent of boys had experienced sexual violence while child marriage stood at 23.9 per cent. It is estimated that 33 per cent of all new HIV infections occurred in adolescents and young people aged 15-24 with girls being at two-to-three times higher risk of contracting the disease. Approximately 20 per cent of all first antenatal care visits in Kenya are of mothers aged 10-19.
Add to these statistics recent media reports of thousands of teachers sacked for preying on their underage pupils and the crises of teenage pregnancies and child marriages in some communities. Cases of sexual violence against children are rampant too.
It should shock our national conscience that a proposal to lower the age of consent should come from our courts. The primary objective of the minimum age of consent is to protect children and adolescents from exploitative and abusive sexual liaisons, and the consequences of early sexual activity on their rights and development. This includes their right to health and education.

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ENDANGERING
In Kenya, the age for sexual consent is not defined; it’s assumed to be 18 years as the Children Act 2001 defines a child as ‘any person below age of eighteen’. The Sexual Offences Act 2006, section 8(1) states that a ‘person who commits an act which causes penetration with a child is guilty of an offence termed defilement’ and stipulates sentences for different age cohorts of children.
Granted, the objective to protect needs to be balanced with the need to avoid unnecessary criminalisation of adolescents engaging in mutually sought, consensual sexual behaviour, as argued by the three judges. However, there are several options for striking this balance without endangering children.
Many countries consider as a criterion the age difference between the partners involved as one indication of establishing the balance of power between them in dealing with cases in which two underage adolescents are involved. Kenya is exploring this route through an ongoing law review. We are aware that the National Council for Administration of Justice Taskforce on Children Matters has already drafted Guidelines on Child Offenders under Sexual Offences Act 2006 to guide the sentencing of children accused of a sexual offence under the Sexual Offences Act.
Under the draft guidelines, the age of sexual consent should remain at 18 years. However, if two underage individuals involved in a case have a difference of two to three years, and it is established (through the testimony of the alleged victim) that they are in a relationship, then they should be treated as children in need of care and protection, not criminals, and supported with guidance and counselling and how to deal with issues of sexuality.

PROSECUTION
The draft guidelines are in the Attorney-General’s Office for consideration and, once enacted, should provide a solution to the crisis the judges are seeking to address. This approach best protects the rights of children — protecting them from predatory and abusive sexual behaviour by adults, but respecting the rights of adolescents — and leaves them free to seek necessary medical advice and guidance without fear of prosecution.
We support the proposal by the taskforce to retain the age of consent at 18, because lowering it will expose children to more risks and exploitation. It will force the lowering of the age of children to engage in paid labour, marriage and, as a whole, eventually lower the age of childhood in Kenya.
The age of consent is a protective measure that is sacrosanct. It must not be tampered with. 



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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