Applying Kenya’s domestic law to combat female genital mutilation in Dadaab refugee camp

Photo: Oxfam East Africa

Photo: Oxfam East Africa

By Francis Akali Oloo (Legal Researcher, Africa)

The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya provides shelter to over 231,103 refugees, including women and children, who are fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking protection away from places where their lives, physical integrity and liberty are perpetually threatened. Although refugee camps are meant to be beacons of hope, refugee women in the Dadaab continue to be victims of one of the worst forms of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM). Kenya, as the host state, has the international legal responsibility to respect and ensure that ‘all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction’ enjoy their human rights (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

In 2006, Kenya enacted the Refugees Act (2006). Although this legislation does not make any explicit reference to FGM, under section 17 it details the duties of refugee camp officers whose functions include to ‘protect and assist vulnerable groups, women and children’. Under section 23(1), the 2006 Act further requires a commissioner of refugees to ‘ensure that specific measures are taken to ensure the safety of refugee women and children in designated areas’.

Kenya has two domestic legislations that are applicable in response to the widespread cases of FGM in Dadaab refugee camp; Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2011), and the Children Act (2001). 

The 2011 Act prohibits the practice of female genital mutilation and requires, under section 27, that the Kenyan government takes necessary steps within its available resources to protect women and girls from FGM and provide support services to victims. On the other hand, the 2001 Act emphasises the adverse effects of FGM on a female child’s life, health, social welfare, dignity and physical or psychological development. The 2001 Act, consequently bans ‘female circumcision’ and recognises that a female child, who is subjected to or is likely to be subjected to female circumcision, is a child in need of special care and protection.

Thus far, Kenya has enacted sound legislation to ban the practice of female genital mutilation within its jurisdiction. Although this is laudable, laws alone cannot investigate cases of FGM in refugee camps, arrest and try perpetrators, and sentence those who are found guilty, without a resolute government who is ready and willing to enforce these laws. As with other cases, Kenya has a history of enacting the appropriate legislation, but falls at the hurdles of investigation and enforcement. It is time for the government to act.