A new Bill on children's rights is ready for tabling before Parliament, the Attorney General's representative to the National Council for Children's Services (NCCS) has said.
This has emerged as Kenya joins the world in celebrating the International Day of the African Child today under the theme: 'Access to a Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa'.
According to Seth Masese, a member of NCCS, the government is working on the final stages of the Children’s Bill 2019.
The Bill that has taken more than 10 years to put together incorporates 27 new rights, including a requirement for the appointment of a special public prosecutor to handle cases of child abuse, neglect and maintenance, upon the Director of Public Prosecutions’ recommendation.
This requirement is not in the current Children’s Act.
The new Bill also raises the age for criminal responsibility of a child from the current nine to 12. While the UN states that a child is any human being under the age of 18, it recommends that the age of criminal responsibility starts at 14.
“We have domesticated a lot from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as well as African Charter on the Rights of Children and brought in new changes to children’s rights,” said Masese.
“The new Bill also proposes that words such as conviction and sentencing should be removed when a child is facing the law.”
The new Bill has 250 clauses which, when enacted, are expected to be an improvement on the current law.
It has already been approved by the AG’s office and awaits presentation to Parliament.
Masese, who represents the Attorney General at the council, said there was an urgent need to shift from placing vulnerable children under institutions and start placing them under the care of the community.
He said the new approach would integrate children in society for better growth and development.
“We are seeking to have children live in a family set-up as opposed to institutions, as this helps them develop better and in a holistic manner,” he said.
Masese maintained that the council had done its best with limited funding and appealed for more resources for the African child.
“In future, we need to look at children as a special category who should have more budgetary allocations,” he said.
On the return of street families, Masese said the government is setting up a database of all children in the streets in collaboration with the Settlement Fund Trustees.
Masese listed defilement, lost children, juvenile crime, unregulated adoptions, female genital mutilation (FGM), pregnancies and early marriages as some of the major challenges facing the African child.
Unicef estimates that four million women and girls in Kenya have been taken through the cut.
According to Masese, the issue of how to implement sex education for children still remains unresolved despite rising cases of child pregnancies. The church has been at the forefront in opposing the introduction of sex education in schools, citing concerns over morality.
“We can reach a consensus if all parties are invited, and yet, in the long run, the best interest of the child must always be upheld,” Masese said.