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Children’s Right to Consent in the Spotlight in Kenya

Kenya’s judges and child welfare organisations are embroiled in a fresh debate on whether to lower the age of consent. Some members of the judiciary believe the age of consent should be lowered from 18 to 16 for heterosexual acts (gay sex is criminalised at any age, punishable by up to 14 years in prison) because boys and girls have “reached the age of discretion and are able to make intelligent and informed decisions about their lives and their bodies”. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 15% of women and 22% of men aged between 20 and 50 had their first sexual experience by the age of 15. Nearly a quarter of Kenyan women gave birth before 18.  Proponents say lowering the age of consent will reduce the number of teenage boys convicted and jailed for “defilement” (the abuse of a child in Kenyan law) after having consensual sex with a girl. They are concerned that aspects of the country’s Sexual Offences Act conflict with the Children’s Act, and disproportionately punish teenage boys. The Sexual Offences Act does not make exemptions for any child found guilty of sexual offences. Children are punished as adults, and remanded in custody with adults. It has no specific provisions on how to deal with a case where two minors are involved.