Youth sex offenders should get legal aid

In Summary

• Sheria Mtaani wants CJ to ensure that all suspects charged with sex offences have a lawyer to represent them in court

• Around 18 percent of Kenyan girls give birth by the age of 18 years

Illustration of child abuse.
RIGHTS VIOLATION: Illustration of child abuse.

An NGO in Mathare has gone to court to ensure that all sexual offenders have mandatory legal representation.

Sheria Mtaani says sexual offences like defilement can receive a life imprisonment sentence without the possibility of remission yet many suspects are convicted without a lawyer to represent them.

Defilement is unacceptable. But there is an ongoing problem, especially in rural and poorer areas, where girls and boys consort but are both below the age of consent, 18 years. Around 18 percent of Kenyan girls give birth by the age of 18 years.


Often the father is an adolescent boy in a recognised relationship with the girl. But he is reported to the police because of an issue like bride price. Then in court the boy, often semi-illiterate and without a lawyer, is prosecuted and swiftly jailed.

Last year Justice Njoki Ndung'u said this problem was exaggerated. She had studied the rates for youth incarceration and only around 4 percent involved sexual offences.

Yet, bearing in mind the harsh mandatory sentences for sex offences, the Sheria Mtaani petition carries weight – no-one should be sentenced to jail for life without a lawyer to represent them in court.

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