Going by the large numbers of teenage pregnancies reported from almost every part of the country, there is no doubt that children engage in sex, which is illegal.
The Global Childhood Report 2019 by Save the Children indicates that Kenya has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancies in East Africa.
Tanzania and Uganda lead with 117 and 111 births per 1,000 girls respectively. Kenya has 82 births per 1,000 girls.
Rape, defilement and other sexual offences are widespread despite laws that stipulate stiff penalties meant to deter the crimes. The Sexual Offences Act, 2006 came into force on July 21, 2006.
The age of consent for sex in Kenya is 18 years. Sexual activity with a person below that age is defilement.
But it is a defence to the charge of defilement if it can be proved that the child deceived the accused into believing he or she was over 18 years.
Last year, three Court of Appeal judges, Roselyn Nambuye, Daniel Musinga and Patrick Kiage, said a debate on lowering the age of sexual consent was long overdue as men were languishing in jail for having sex with teenage girls who were willing and appeared to be adults.
The judges said it was unrealistic to assume that teenagers do not engage in sex.
Instead, they observed, underage girls and boys often engage in sexual relations willingly.
Currently, the age of consent is 16 years in 76 nations around the world. Nigeria has the lowest age of consent at 11 years followed by the Philippines and Angola at 12 years.
But some observers criticised the Court of Appeal judges and proposed that the age of consent should instead be raised to 21 years.
“You will have the rest of your life to have sex. Why do you want to be thinking about sex at 16 years?” Education CS George Magoha said. “As Africans, we must stop using other people’s standards as our standards. My opinion is that the age should be increased to 21”.
The civil society group Crawn Trust condemned the proposal to have the age of sexual consent lowered from 18 to 16 years, saying such a move would expose children to sexual abuse and protect predators.
Bungoma Woman Rep Catherine Wambilianga led women from the county to reject the suggestion.
They said it would increase the number of teenage mothers and proposed that the age should be enhanced to 21 years.
Teenage pregnancies remain a major problem and, evidently, laws alone will not stop them. Perhaps it is time to introduce sex education in schools.
By Henry Makori