WHO ARE THE 160 GIRLS?
In eastern Kenya, 160 girls, all victims of rape, are determined to seek justice. In Kenya, a woman or girl is raped every 30 minutes. Girls are raped by family members and men in their own communities. Many of the girls are orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. They are vulnerable to abuse from extended family members and from strangers.
Because many men believe that sex with a virgin even a young child - is a cure for HIV/AIDS, these girls are doubly vulnerable.
The 160 girls have received temporary shelter and refuge for 6 weeks after that, they are on their own- and vulnerable.
WHAT IS 160 GIRLS?
The 160 Girls project is a legal initiative that aims to achieve justice and protect against rape for all girls in Kenya. The 160 Girls project will initiate litigation to secure legal remedies ordering the state to enforce existing laws in Kenya to protect girls from sexual violence and to hold rapists accountable.
The project will mobilize the law to secure concrete change for women and girls who currently experience some of the most appalling forms of violence in the world today.
BENEFITS OF 160 GIRLS
If the State enforces its laws, girls will be protected from rape. There will be increased safety and security for girls and more state accountability for the enforcement of existing laws intended to protect women and girls.
Mallick: Canadians Help Fight for 'Defiled' Girls in Kenya
These child victims are the loneliest girls in the world. They are often orphaned by AIDS and are vulnerable to attacks by their remaining family as well as strangers. The myth that having sex with a virgin is a cure for HIV/AIDS is also a spur, and not just for pedophiles.
But a Canadian lawyer named Fiona Sampson has joined with Kenyan colleagues and politicians at their request in a legal challenge to force the Kenyan government to enforce existing laws against the sexual torture of children.
The project, colloquially known as the 160 Girls case, a venture of Sampsons The Equality Effect organization, has brought together 160 rape victims to fight for protection.
Essentially Sampson is trying for a Kenyan version of what Jane Doe managed when she sued the Toronto Police Department over her rape she was used as unknowing bait for a serial rapist the police were hunting down and the way rape victims are subsequently treated by police and the legal system.
Last week in Toronto, a fundraiser for 160 Girls raised over $100,000 (a good start, but they need more). Its an astonishing amount, especially for a crime that is hard to describe without emotionally scarring the audience.
Flora Terah, a parliamentary candidate in Meru, Kenya, told the audience of Canadian lawyers and activists of her own experience in 2007. She was abducted and taken to her fathers grave for rape. They broke her back, scorched her arms with cigarettes, and forced human feces down her throat.
When Terah was recovering in hospital, she befriended a 3-year-old girl getting reconstructive surgery after her own rape. The child would visit Flora in her hospital bed to enjoy her flowers and chocolate. Then shed change. Shed suddenly climb off Floras bed and bite and scratch any man visiting Flora, thinking that all men are rapists and trying to protect herself and her new lady friend.
Kenyan newspapers regularly report on defilement committed by teachers, police officers and other authority figures. One Kenyan TV news reported shows tiny Emma, 4, who two years before was raped, beaten and left for dead by her stepfather. Emma doesn'twalk so much as totter like an old woman because of her injuries, which have still basically gone untreated. She is physically and emotionally broken. When she sees a man, she covers her face and weeps. Her stepfather was never arrested.
The crimes, if shown, would harrow the soul and freeze the blood. It makes these lawyers efforts all the more admirable and suited to a profession sometimes seen as rigid and uncaring.
The Equality Effect, partnered with Kenyan human rights lawyers, is seeking a court order that would have the states failure to enforce existing criminal law on rape recognized as sex discrimination.
That failure would violate the states human rights obligations under domestic, regional and international law. Sexual violence is sex discrimination, thats what Sampson and her team are aiming for legally, because the concept could then be extended to other crimes against Kenyan women. Marital rape and adult female genital mutilation are not even considered crimes in Kenya.
Sampsons team is doing infinitely more than what we all want to do: head to Kenya, adopt the stumbling Emma, restore her urinary tract and repair her vaginal mutilation at an excellent Canadian hospital, and hug her for the next decade or so, teach her that men are good, and gleefully watch her turn into a stroppy Canadian teenager.
But that wont help 160 girls or even 11,600, of course. And that is what this ambitious legal challenge aims to do.