The Sitting-Under-a-Tree Approach to Criminal Justice

The Sexual Offences Act of 2016, Section 8 (3) stipulates:

A person who commits an offense of defilement with a child between the age of twelve and fifteen years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than twenty years.

Some traditional conflict resolution mechanisms perpetuate injustices rather than solving them.

This was the case when a group of elders met in a compound in Sericho Village, Isiolo South Constituency to discuss a defilement case. A 14-year old girl had been defiled by a 25-year old Boda Boda rider in the area. The resolution involved a sitting-under-a-tree session to try and work something out. These sittings-under-a-tree to solve criminal acts is common in the pastoralist community.

According to the victim, the Boda Boda rider, Kero  - who is well known to her family - visited their home on 27th June 2020 at 8 pm to deliver firewood. Her parents were not at home at the time. He convinced her to escort him to a nearby cemetery where he repeatedly defiled her. He then threatened to kill her if she told anyone about it. At around 10 pm, she went home and found her father waiting for. Afraid, she did not tell anyone what had happened until her father started beating her because of her late arrival.

After narrating her ordeal, her father went to Kero’s home to inform the father of what his son had done. The next morning, community elders mobilized by Kero’s family met at the home of the young girl to discuss possible “compensation’’. Elder Mzee Issack Abagalla explained even during his grandfather’s time, elders would fine the perpetrator as a form of punishment and to stop the offender from repeating the same mistake:  “If a woman is raped or a girl defiled, the perpetrator is fined five cows. If the perpetrator or his family are not able to pay the fine, their clan would have to contribute on his behalf.”

IFA was contacted by one of the minor’s relatives, who felt it was an injustice. The girl’s family was busy preparing for compensation and had not reported the matter to the police or taken her to hospital.

Mohamed Rashid, the Sericho Chief, took the girl to the hospital on 29th June – two days after the assault - and reported the matter to police after the IFA Isiolo Team alerted him of the incident

On 4th July, IFA visited the home of the girl. She broke down in tears as she narrated off camera her ordeal, and how her family and neighbours blamed her for what happened to her. The victim said the clan elders sat outside under a tree to discuss the heinous act, while she had to make tea for them and serve them. Outraged by what was happening, IFA called the Sericho Chief who arrived with police and arrested more than seven of the elders.

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The girl’s father was also arrested. All were taken to Sericho Police post. They were later transferred to Sericho Police Station to record a statement. A Police Officer at the station told IFA the file had been taken to the Embu DCIO for investigation, and with evidence; they would be charged with obstruction of justice.

Until and when Kero is arrested and charged for his crime, the 14-year old girl will never get justice and will continue to suffer like all other victims whose elders choose to discuss the crimes sitting under a tree.

For now, the culprit is still walking scot-free; and IFA Isiolo team is still following up on the matter.

By the IFA Isiolo Team

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