A story in the Daily Nation’s DN2 magazine of June 10 said some of the women whose children are sexually abused do not seek justice for the minors as it is too costly.
However, there are a number of firms that are willing to handle cases for free, especially if it involves gross infringement of constitutional rights. Moreover, they are lawyers who are activists and philanthropists.
Free legal aid, also called “pro bono”, means professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment. Lawyers and legal bodies do, on occasion, give such services for free in the interest of justice or for philanthropic reasons.
Kituo cha Sheria, for instance, has a Legal Aid and Education Program (Leap) that assists financially challenged people in protecting their rights. It provides to walk-in clients services such as legal awareness.
While serving victims of sexual abuse, the opportunity can arise to educate the affected parents and children on their rights.
The Constitution, under Article 53, states that every child has the right to be protected from “abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labor”. This covers the matter of sexual abuse these innocent children are being subjected to.
Further, every person has the right to institute court proceedings claiming that a right or fundamental freedom has been denied, violated or threatened under Article 22.
Section 15 of the Children Act protects minors from sexual exploitation and use in prostitution, inducement or coercion to engage in any sexual activity, and exposure to obscene materials.
The under-age victims in question were sexually abused by relatives. Some were sold off by ‘Good Samaritans’ who rescued them in order to bring in money in exchange for sex.
That is a clear violation of the rights of the victims. The law vehemently protects these children’s rights. It is, therefore, a gross miscarriage of justice when such cases are covered under the code of omerta.
This knowledge of the law will empower the victims and their parents or guardians by helping them know their rights and how to enforce them.
Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida-Kenya) also has a pro bono scheme, where lawyers in public practice volunteer legal service to citizens. This has helped needy women to access justice without incurring huge bills.
Fida also seeks to strengthen women emotionally through individual and group therapy sessions. Those girls suffered severe psychological trauma and can benefit from such aid.
Law firms also engage in pro bono work. Usually, a law firm will internally set the number pro bono cases it will take up.
Victims of sexual abuse, even through their parents, can bravely seek free legal aid for three reasons: First, this is a human rights issue; secondly, it is a matter of public interest; and, thirdly, its rampancy has made it a national concern. These factors increase the urgency for expedient administration of justice.
The right of access to justice belongs to all. Lawyers do their best to make justice accessible to more people by doing legal work for free. They are guardians of fairness. They are trained to serve. Let us not see lawyers as mere profit seekers but as agents of justice.
Ms Otieno is a lawyer. email@example.com