But while the judgment has been widely praised, many of those working to improve legal rights in the region warn court rulings are not always implemented and often fail to make a difference in the lives of ordinary victims.Mercy Chidi, who runs the Tumaini Hope Centre for abuse victims, said she spearheaded the civil case against Kenyan police because officers had repeatedly failed to prosecute alleged abusers of the youngsters who were fleeing to her shelter."The police don't take it seriously and don't investigate the offences. We were tired of mopping the floor and felt we needed to go a step further, challenge the state and hold the police accountable,” she told Al Jazeera.We wanted justice for the girls in the case, and legal protection for all 10 million girls in Kenya, so that eventually the police will enforce the law and there will be repercussions for the perpetrators of this violence Rather than probing the allegations of young victims, officers demanded payment for assistance or humiliated and shamed the girls when they turned up at police stations to report their abusers, the court heard.
"We wanted justice for the girls in the case, and legal protection for all 10 million girls in Kenya, so that eventually the police will enforce the law and there will be repercussions for the perpetrators of this violence, and we see a shift in behaviour by the men responsible,” said Sampson.
Sex abuse victims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and China have asked for help in launching similar test legal cases in their countries.
Sampson is already working on other pieces of so-called "impact litigation” in sub-Saharan Africa.
James Reinl is a journalist and world affairs analyst who has reported from more than 30 countries and won awards for covering Haiti’s earthquake, Sri Lanka’s civil war and human rights abuses in Iran.
- It has been hailed as a landmark legal victory that will tackle the soaring rates of sex abuse against young Kenyans, and kick-start efforts to end the impunity enjoyed by rapists across other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
A judge in central Kenya recently ruled that police should probe allegations of sexual assault made by 11 girls that they had hitherto ignored.The cases were part of a wider pattern of sex abuse against 270 youngsters from around Meru, Kenya at the hands of relatives, teachers and even policemen.In one case, involving the gang-rape of a blind man's daughter, police took no action other than providing the sightless father with an arrest warrant, informing him that he should single-handedly apprehend the offenders, said Chidi. Others became pregnant or contracted the Aids-giving virus, HIV, from their abuse.A three-month-old baby was raped under a mistaken belief held across much of sub-Saharan Africa that penetrating virgins cures Aids."It is thought that the younger the victim, the stronger the cure,” said Fiona Sampson, a lawyer for The Equality Effect, a Canada-based group that helped prosecute the case leading up to last month's High Court ruling.A 2010 study by Kenya's government described a "serious problem” of violence against children in East Africa's biggest economy.Some 32 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys endured sex abuse, mostly from within their own family.