Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.
Freedom of Speech: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 132 of the penal code that criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the law prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. The Judicial Service Commission, however, reported many cases were withdrawn due to failure of witnesses to appear in court or to facilitate mediation. Cases that did proceed often failed to meet evidentiary requirements. Authorities arrested several members of parliament on incitement or hate speech charges. In September authorities arrested two parliamentarians for hate speech and incitement following remarks made against the president and his family. The court ordered their release after they posted bail, and the cases remained pending at the end of the year.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict press freedom, and officials occasionally accused international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners. Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.
Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of the press. The government has not issued regulations required to implement fully the 2016 Access to Information Act, which promotes government transparency, and civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of media. NGO Article 19 Eastern Africa reported there were at least 48 attacks against Kenyan journalists and restrictions to their work concerning the pandemic between March 12 and August 31, including physical assault, arrest, telephone or verbal threats, online harassment, and lack of access to public information.
In January media reported that police assaulted Nation Media Group journalist Laban Odhiambo Walloga in Mombasa while he was covering protests against a government directive that all cargo from the port of Mombasa be transported via the Standard Gauge Railway.
In March widely disseminated photographs showed a police officer beating NTV journalist Peter Wainana in Mombasa as he reported on excessive use of force by police enforcing the first day of a national curfew during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coast Regional Commander Rashid Yakub publicly apologized for the incident and advised the journalist to record a statement at the central police station in Mombasa. Media reported that as of March disciplinary action was pending.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists avoided covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family or assets owned by the Kenyatta family.
In April the High Court upheld the 2018 ban imposed by the Kenya Film Classification Board on the film Rafiki, which portrays a romance between two women. The court held the ban on distributing or exhibiting the film in the country was constitutional and a valid limitation of freedom of expression.
Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional a portion of the law that defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.
In September the High Court ordered the Nation Media Group to remove from online platforms an August 16 television news report, “COVID-19 Millionaires,” pending the hearing of a libel case brought by Megascope Ltd. for being accused of involvement in alleged corruption at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority.
The cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior threatened to sue blogger Robert Alai and three others on March 27 for libel stemming from a March 13 article stating the cabinet secretary owned a concrete company that caused death and injury to residents of Bobasi in Kisii County.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws. According to the Freedom on the Net report, authorities used laws on hate speech and defamation to prosecute online critics of the government. In 2018 President Kenyatta signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, but the High Court suspended enforcement of 26 sections of the law pending further hearings. The court based the suspension on complaints that the law was overly vague and subject to misuse, criminalized defamation, and failed to include intent requirements in key provisions and exceptions for public use and whistleblowers. In February the High Court found the provisions constitutional and lifted the suspension. The provisions were applied for the first time in March when a man was arrested for publishing false information on social media related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and authorities arrested numerous bloggers and social media users for allegedly spreading false information online. In October the High Court nullified 23 bills, including the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, that were passed by the National Assembly without involving the Senate. The court suspended the order for nine months, however, and the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act remained in effect.
By law mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech.
Privacy International reported the National Intelligence Service had direct access to the country’s telecommunications networks that allows for the interception of communications data. Furthermore, Privacy International reported the National Police Service also had surveillance powers, established in the National Police Service Act and the National Police Service Commission Act of 2011. Freedom House additionally reported authorities used various types of surveillance technologies to monitor citizens.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government sometimes restricted this right.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat. In March the government began enforcing government directives to stem the spread of COVID-19, including a curfew and restrictions on public gatherings.
Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types. In July police used tear gas against protesters demonstrating against police brutality and other social injustices. Authorities arrested more than 50 persons, including prominent human rights activists, for violating COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, although they were released shortly after.
The NGO Defenders Coalition recorded 82 arrests of demonstrators between March and July, twice the total number recorded in 2019. This included the arrest of nine activists who marched to Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company offices to protest the lack of potable water in the informal settlement of Kayole.
In October the cabinet approved the establishment of a multiagency team to monitor, document, and enforce compliance with new directives related to public meetings. The directives state any person intending to hold a public gathering must notify the relevant police station commander three to 14 days in advance, and the police commander may decline the request. The Law Society of Kenya challenged the constitutionality of the provisions, arguing the government applied the provisions selectively to suppress differing political views. In November the High Court temporarily suspended the directives pending a hearing on the petition.
Freedom of Association
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. NGOs continued to express concerns regarding reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. Human rights groups noted activists continued to face increased attacks in a climate of impunity. In June the Mathare Social Justice Centre condemned a visit by police officers, including one allegedly linked to extrajudicial killings, to intimidate and harass its staff.
There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers were dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights.
The law requires every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the Registrar of Societies. The law requires NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research to register with the NGO Coordination Board. It also requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.
Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities, the act had not been implemented by year’s end.
In 2019 parliament passed an amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act that empowered the National Counter Terrorism Center to become an “approving and reporting institution for all civil society organizations and international NGOs engaged in preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization through counter messaging or public outreach, and disengagement and reintegration of radicalized individuals.” Civil society leaders expressed concerns the broad language of the amendment may allow government authorities to exert undue oversight and control over the activities of NGOs. A court case filed by a consortium of civil society leaders against the amendment continued to proceed through legal channels.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens, and the government respected those rights, but it placed restrictions on movement for refugees.
In-country Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers were required to register with the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat, and the law reiterates strict implementation of the encampment policy. The Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) was responsible for refugee management in the country and continued to enforce the encampment policy requiring all refugees and asylum seekers to reside in the designated refugee camps, despite a Court of Appeal decision to the contrary.
On April 29, the Interior Ministry released a Public Act Order on cessation of movements in and out of refugee camps for 28 days through May 27 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since the government had not issued an order to lift the decree, the movement restrictions in and out of the refugee camps remained de facto as of October 23.
Prior to the restriction of movement, the RAS issued newly arrived asylum seekers registration documents and movement passes requiring them to report to the camps. Refugees needing to move outside the designated areas (Kakuma camp, Kalobeyei settlement, and the Dadaab refugee camp complex) had to obtain a temporary movement pass issued by the RAS. Stringent vetting requirements and long processing times delayed the issuance of temporary movement passes in the camps.
Given the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff, the RAS significantly reduced client-facing activity in its Nairobi office, including reducing the registration of new arrivals, which further influenced refugee movement. Its office in Kakuma refugee camp temporarily suspended non-life-saving client services requiring in-person contact. The office in Kakuma, however, continued to register new arrivals and reactivate authorizations for refugees returning to the camp to allow them access to life-saving humanitarian programming. The movement pass requirements for any refugee movement outside the designated areas remained unchanged.
The law allows exemption categories for specific groups to live outside designated camp areas, including in protection and medical cases. The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, and to refugees enrolled in public schools. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit on an exceptional basis due to the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff.
Although there were no restrictions on movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons in the country faced significant restrictions on their movement (see section 2.g.).
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
The NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated there were 163,400 IDPs in the country and 75,800 new displacements at the end of 2019. Communities were sometimes displaced due to interethnic violence and conflict.
State and private actors conducted displacements, usually during the construction of dams, railways, and roads. There is no mechanism to provide compensation or other remedies to victims of these displacements. In addition some residents remained displaced during the year due to land tenure disputes, particularly in or around natural reserves (see section 1.e.).
Water and pasture scarcity exacerbated communal conflict and left an unknown number of citizens internally displaced, especially in arid and semiarid areas. IDPs generally congregated in informal settlements and transit camps. Living conditions in such settlements and camps remained poor, with rudimentary housing and little public infrastructure or services. Grievances and violence between IDPs and host communities were generally resource based and occurred when IDPs attempted to graze livestock. In the north IDP settlements primarily consisted of displaced ethnic Somalis and were targets of clan violence or involved in clashes over resources.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In 2017 the country pledged to apply the UNHCR Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework to enhance refugee self-reliance, increase access to solutions, and improve conditions in countries of origin for safe and voluntary returns. Implementation, however, was largely lacking.
In 2017 the High Court blocked the government’s plan to close the Dadaab refugee camp complex, ruling the plan violated the principle of nonrefoulement and refugees’ constitutional rights to fair administrative action. As of year’s end, the government had not appealed the High Court’s ruling. While the court’s 2017 decision eased pressure on Somalis who feared the camp would close by the government-imposed deadline, during the year the government expressed a renewed interest in closing Dadaab, requesting UNHCR to relocate all refugees from Dadaab. The camp closure discussion created uncertainty for the more than 200,000 refugees residing there.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police abuse, including detention of asylum seekers and refugees, continued, often due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to those holding refugee or asylum-seeker documentation or those who illegally entered the country and were apprehended. Most detainees were released after a court appearance or intervention by organizations such as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya or Kituo Cha Sheria.
During the year the security situation in Dadaab improved but remained precarious. There were no attacks on humanitarian workers and no detonations of improvised explosive devices within 15 miles of the refugee complex during the year. The security partnership between UNHCR and local police remained strong and led to improvements in camp security through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives.
Sexual and gender-based violence against refugees and asylum seekers remained a problem, particularly for vulnerable populations, including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees and asylum seekers. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, female genital mutilation mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and early and forced marriage, particularly of Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls (see section 6). Although there was increased community engagement to reduce sexual and gender-based violence and strengthened partnerships, including with the local authorities, sexual and gender-based violence continued to affect women and girls due to their low social and economic status in the community. Most urban refugees resided in informal settlements, where insecurity and sexual and gender-based violence was rampant. Women in female-headed households and young girls separated from families due to conflict were most at risk due to lack of male protection within their families. Girls and boys out of school were at risk of abuse, survival sex, and early marriage. Despite strong awareness programs in the camps, underreporting persisted due to community preference for maslaha, a traditional form of jurisprudence prevalent in the region, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism; shortages of female law enforcement officers; limited awareness of what constitutes sexual and gender-based violence among vulnerable populations; and the medical forensic requirements for trying alleged rape cases.
Refugees have equal access to justice and the courts under the law, although following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts scaled down operations, prioritizing urgent cases and deferring nonurgent cases. Refugees were often unable to obtain legal services because of the prohibitive cost and their lack of information on their rights and obligations, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR, through its partners, continued to provide legal assistance and representation to refugees to increase their access to justice. The law specifically provides that refugees are eligible to receive legal aid services. The law, however, had not been fully operationalized.
Many refugees dealt with criminality in accordance with their own customary law and traditional practices, although some opted to go through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, and ethnic violence, according to UNHCR.
During the year UNHCR assisted 79 persons to return voluntarily to their places of origin, all of whom returned to Ethiopia. Insecurity and unfavorable conditions in countries of origin such as South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as border closures and movement restrictions due to COVID-19, hindered returns.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to camp-based refugees. The government generally coordinated with UNHCR to provide assistance and protection to refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and urban areas. The government had yet to register more than 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers estimated to reside in Dadaab, the majority of whom were Somali. Pressure from UNHCR and the international community resulted in the government’s registration of a number of extremely vulnerable individuals. South Sudanese refugees received prima facie refugee status.
According to UNHCR, as of September 30, the country hosted 499,219 registered refugees and asylum seekers, including 221,102 in the Dadaab refugee camp complex, 197,341 in Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement, and 80,776 in urban areas. Most refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (269,541), with others coming from South Sudan (122,610), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (44,763), Ethiopia (28,915), Burundi (16,158), and other countries (17,232). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan, and the refugee population in Dadaab was primarily Somali. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR expired in 2018, although the spirit of the agreement and coordination remained. Since 2014 a total of 84,981 Somali refugees had voluntarily repatriated under the agreement.
The RAS, responsible for refugee management in the country, maintained a cooperative working relationship with UNHCR, which continued to provide it with technical support and capacity building.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees’ freedom of movement was significantly restricted due to the country’s strict encampment policies as well as COVID-19 (see section 2.d.).
Employment: By law refugees are generally not permitted to work in the country. While the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act allows recognized refugees to engage in any occupation, trade, business, or profession upon approval of applications for a Class M work permit, many barriers and red tape hinder refugees’ ability to secure work permits. Only refugees with specialized skills or those who could invest were successful in obtaining a work permit from the Immigration Department.
Access to Basic Services: Despite the encampment policy, many refugees resided in urban areas, even though they lacked documentation authorizing them to do so. This affected their access to basic government services, including the National Hospital Insurance Fund, education, employment, business licenses, financial institutions, mobile phones, and related services. In addition they were vulnerable to arrest, police harassment, and extortion.
g. Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. Since 2017 UNHCR estimated 18,500 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number was unknown.
Communities known to UNHCR as stateless include the Pemba in Kwale (approximately 7,000) and the Shona (an estimated 3,500). The 8,000 remaining include: persons of Rwandan, Burundian, or Congolese descent; some descendants of slaves from Zambia and Malawi; the Galjeel, who were stripped of their nationality in 1989; and smaller groups at risk of statelessness due to their proximity to the country’s border with Somalia and Ethiopia, including the Daasanach and returnees from Somalia (the Sakuye) residing in Isiolo. The Pare are a group of people intermarried with Kenyans for many years who reside at the border with Tanzania but are at risk of statelessness since they do not hold marriage certificates or other identity documents. Children born in the country to British overseas citizens are stateless due to conflicting nationality laws in the country and in the United Kingdom, although the estimated affected population size is unknown.
The country’s legislation provides protection, limited access to some basic services, and documentation to stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness. The constitution contains a progressive bill of rights and a revised chapter on citizenship, yet it does not include any safeguards to prevent statelessness at birth. The law provides a definition of a stateless person and opportunities for such a person as well as his or her descendants to be registered as citizens so long as the individual was a resident in the country at the time of its independence. Similar provisions apply to some categories of migrants who do not possess identification documents. These provisions were in the process of being revised as of October.
Stateless persons had limited legal protection, and many faced social exclusion. Others encountered travel restrictions and heightened vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births under the late birth registration procedures, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.
National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau. Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process. During the participatory assessments UNHCR conducted in 2018 and 2019, stateless persons said they could not easily register their children at birth or access birth certificates because they lacked supporting documents.
Due to awareness raising among the stateless and capacity building for relevant authorities, towards the end of 2019 the situation improved for stateless persons, who were no longer turned away from registration offices as occurred in prior years. For birth registration within six months of birth, stateless persons were able to obtain a birth certificate but had problems registering children older than six months. The law does not have a provision to support the registration without supporting documents and instead gives discretion to the registrar general.
Formal employment opportunities, access to financial services, and freedom of movement continued to be out of reach due to lack of national identity cards. Stateless persons without identity cards cannot access the National Hospital Insurance Fund, locking them out of access to subsidized health services, including maternity coverage.
In October 2019 the government pledged to recognize and register persons in the Shona community who had lived in the country since the 1960s. The Civil Registration Services Department began to issue birth certificates to Shona children and process birth certificates for Shona adults who were born in the country.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, defilement (statutory rape), domestic violence, and sex tourism, but enforcement remained limited. The law’s definition of domestic violence includes sexual violence within marriage, early and forced marriage, FGM/C, forced wife “inheritance,” damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person. The law does not explicitly criminalize spousal rape. Insulting the modesty of another person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or stripping them of clothing are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years.
The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape when the victim is older than 18, although sentences were at the discretion of the judge and usually no longer than the minimum of 10 years (see also section 6, Children). Citizens frequently used traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms, including maslaha in Muslim communities, to address sexual offenses in rural areas, with village elders assessing financial compensation for the victims or their families. They also used such mechanisms occasionally in urban areas.
The judiciary recorded 10,510 cases of sexual and gender-based violence filed in court between July 2018 and June 2019. The NGO Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya reported arrests and prosecutions of sexual violence cases remained low, even in cases in which victims identified perpetrators, due to limited police resources to conduct investigations, insufficient evidence collection and handling mechanisms, and lengthy court proceedings, which made it difficult and expensive for victims to pursue cases.
Although police no longer required physicians to examine victims, physicians still had to complete official forms reporting rape. Rural areas generally had no police physician, and in Nairobi there were only three. NGOs reported police stations often but inconsistently accepted the examination report of clinical physicians who initially treated rape victims. In 2019 police launched the National Police Service Standard Operating Procedures on addressing gender-based violence. These procedures aim to standardize the varying quality of care that victims receive and provide a guide to police officers who do not have the relevant training.
Authorities cited domestic violence as the leading cause of preventable, nonaccidental death for women. Except in cases of death, police officers generally refrained from investigating domestic violence, which they considered a private family matter.
NGOs expressed concerns regarding rising incidents of sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the chief justice cited a spike in cases involving sexual offenses, noting some perpetrators were family members or close friends of the victims. A national helpline supported by the Department of Gender Affairs reported cases rose from 86 in February to more than 1,100 in June. Cases decreased in July, but the total number of calls was four times higher than during the same period in the previous year. Survivors of sexual violence were unable to report crimes or seek medical treatment during curfew hours.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law makes it illegal to practice FGM/C, procure the services of someone who practices FGM/C, or send a person out of the country to undergo the procedure. The law also makes it illegal to make derogatory remarks about a woman who has not undergone FGM/C. Government officials often participated in public-awareness programs to prevent the practice. Nevertheless, individuals practiced FGM/C widely, particularly in some rural areas. According to a study by UNICEF published in March, despite the legal prohibition of FGM/C and progress made by the government in eliminating the practice, myths supporting the practice remained deep-rooted in some local cultures. The study concluded approximately 21 percent of adult women ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure some time in their lives, but the practice was heavily concentrated in a few communities, including the Maasai (78 percent), Samburu (86 percent), and Somali (94 percent).
As part of the government’s initiative to end FGM/C by 2022, the Ministry of Public Service, Youth, and Gender Affairs continued work with county officials and nonstate actors to improve enforcement of the FGM/C law. This included education and advocacy efforts as well as prosecutions of those violating the law. NGOs and government officials reported a significant increase of FGM/C cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more vulnerable. Many FGM/C rescue centers were closed partially or even totally due to the pandemic. Media reported arrests of perpetrators and parents who agreed to FGM/C, but parents in regions with a high prevalence of FGM/C frequently bribed police to allow the practice to continue. There were also reports FGM/C increasingly occurred in secret to avoid prosecution. County officials in areas with a high prevalence of FGM/C noted many cases targeted infants, with one recent government study finding an estimated 61 percent of girls younger than five in one county had undergone the procedure.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Certain communities practiced wife inheritance, in which a man inherits the widow of his brother or other close relative, regardless of her wishes. The practice was more likely in cases of economically disadvantaged women with limited access to education living outside of major cities.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Sexual harassment was often not reported, and victims rarely filed charges.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution recognizes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Exercising this right, however, remained challenging due to the prohibitive costs of contraception for some persons, the limited information and services that were available, and cultural and religious norms in some areas that discouraged the use of modern contraceptives and gave men decision-making authority over women. Subsidized contraception options, including condoms, birth control pills, and long-acting or permanent methods, were widely available to both men and women, although access was more difficult in rural areas.
The country’s 2010 constitution states, “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” The penal code criminalizes the provision of abortions (14 years’ imprisonment), attempts to obtain or self-administer an abortion (seven years’ imprisonment), and supplying drugs or instruments used in an abortion (three years’ imprisonment).
According to the UN Population Division, 77 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had their needs for family planning satisfied with modern methods. A 2019 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that more than half of sexually active adolescent women between the ages of 15 and 19 who did not want to become pregnant had an unmet need for modern contraception and that almost two-thirds of pregnancies among this age group were unintended. The adolescent birth rate was 96 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, according to UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Access to sexual and reproductive health information by adolescents remained a problem due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, low coverage of youth-friendly services, and a lack of adequate stocks of contraceptives in public hospitals.
According to the UNFPA, 56 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own decisions regarding health care, contraception, and sex with their husbands or partners. NGOs reported that it was more difficult for marginalized groups–including LGBTI persons, women with disabilities, displaced persons, and persons with HIV–to access reproductive health information and services. Families of girls with disabilities sometimes colluded with medical professionals to sterilize them as a means of protecting them from sexual violence, according to a disability rights activist. In 2018 the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the government for prohibiting the NGO Marie Stopes Kenya from providing reproductive health information to women and girls following allegations the NGO was promoting abortion. The case remained pending at year’s end.
Skilled obstetric, prenatal, and postpartum care was available in major hospitals, but many women could not access or afford these services. Skilled health-care personnel attended an estimated 62 percent of births, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. In December a court ruled in favor of four survivors of sexual violence and found the government responsible for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual and gender-based violence during the 2007-2008 postelection violence. The ruling marked the first time that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence received compensation.
Maternity services were free of charge in all public health institutions in the country. The government’s Linda Mama program, a free health insurance plan that covers the pregnancy period and up to three months postdelivery, targeted women in rural and low-income areas and continued to operate during the year. NGOs reported that government measures to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nationwide curfew and movement restrictions, led to an increase in maternal morbidity, a decrease in births attended by skilled health-care personnel, and a decrease in women receiving prenatal and postpartum care during the year.
Maternal deaths accounted for 51 percent of all deaths of women between the ages of 15 and 49, and the maternal mortality rate was 342 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. Unsafe abortion, pregnancy, and birth complications limited access to health services, and harmful cultural practices were cited as among the main causes of maternal death and morbidity. The UNFPA reported that maternal mortality in Mandera County was 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births–the highest in the country–partially due to harmful cultural rites like FGM/C and limited access to health services. In 2019 the High Court ruled that the director of medical services and the Ministry of Health had violated the rights of the country’s women by arbitrarily withdrawing standards and guidelines on reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions. The court directed the government to reinstate the guidelines and reaffirmed the right of survivors of sexual violence to obtain abortions. The Ministry of Health had not reinstated the guidelines as of year’s end.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution provides equal rights for men and women and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth. The justice system widely applied customary laws that discriminated against women, limiting their political and economic rights.
The constitution prohibits gender discrimination in relation to land and property ownership and gives women equal rights to inheritance and access to land. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation for the protection of wives’ rights to matrimonial property during and upon the termination of a marriage, and it affirms parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. According to a June report by Human Rights Watch, women continued to face institutional and legal barriers that hindered their access to justice and a fair share of matrimonial property upon the dissolution of marriage. Additionally, the components of the law that stipulate how to apply for succession were little known, and thus many inheritances continued to pass from fathers to sons only.
Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from the citizenship of the parents, and either parent may transmit citizenship. Birth on the country’s territory does not convey citizenship. Birth registration is compulsory. An estimated 76 percent of births were officially registered in 2019, according to the Kenya Bureau of National Statistics. Lack of official birth certificates resulted in discrimination in delivery of public services. The Department of Civil Registration Services implements the Maternal Child Health Registration Strategy, which requires nurses administering immunizations to register the births of unregistered children. In September the government announced plans to issue children a special minor’s identification document once they reach the age of six. The plan calls for the government to assign children a unique number at birth, which the government will use to issue the card after the child submits biometric data at age six. The same number is then to be used to apply for a national identity card at the age of 18.
Education: By law education is tuition free and compulsory until age 18, although public schools may impose fees for boarding, uniforms, and other expenses. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory attendance law uniformly. The government closed all schools in March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In October the government partially opened schools, but only three grades resumed classes, with the remaining grades scheduled to resume in January 2021.
In January and February, the Teachers Service Commission authorized transfers of more than 1,000 nonlocal teachers from the northeastern counties of Garissa, Mandera, and Wajir due to heightened insecurity, including attacks by suspected al-Shabaab militants targeting nonlocal teachers. The subsequent shortage of teachers threatened the closure of nearly 200 schools, according to a Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report, before the government closed all schools in March. Media reported efforts to hire teachers to fill the vacancies were underway as of year’s end.
While the law provides pregnant girls the right to continue their education until and after giving birth, NGOs reported schools often did not respect this right. School executives sometimes expelled pregnant girls or transferred them to other schools. In recent years media outlets reported a significant number of girls failed to take their final secondary school examinations due to pregnancy. Final examinations were not held during the year due to the pandemic.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes several forms of violence that affect children, including early and forced marriage, FGM/C, incest, and physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Violence against children, particularly in poor and rural communities, was common, and child abuse, including sexual abuse, occurred frequently. In June the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection found nearly half of female children and more than half of male children experienced childhood violence. The study found emotional violence was also common.
In July the president called for an investigation into the rising number of cases of child abuse due to COVID-19 restrictions and immediate prosecutions; 160 cases of sexual and gender-based violence, mainly defilement and neglect, were reported to a government helpline in the first week of May alone. The Teachers Service Commission recommended the removal of 30 teachers due to defilement cases and other sexual offenses.
According to IPOA, most police facilities did not have designated child protection units, and police usually requested the Department of Children Services to take custody of child victims. Although all the police facilities that IPOA inspected during the year had at least one officer designated to handle children cases, only some of the officers had received training on handling these cases, and the police stations did not have sufficient resources to process the large number of cases involving child victims. IPOA found the shortage of designated child protective units made it difficult for officers to record statements from child victims due to the lack of privacy. According to IPOA, police also reported challenges investigating cases such as child rape, since some communities defended the perpetrators and preferred to settle cases through traditional mechanisms.
The minimum sentence for conviction of statutory rape is life imprisonment if the victim is younger than age 11, 20 years in prison if the victim is between ages 11 and 15, and 10 years’ imprisonment if the child is age 16 or 17. Although exact numbers were unavailable, during the year media reported several statutory rape convictions.
The government banned corporal punishment in schools, but there were reports corporal punishment occurred.
Although there were no reports the government recruited child soldiers, there were reports the al-Shabaab terrorist group recruited children in areas bordering Somalia.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 years for women and men. According to UNICEF, 25 percent of girls are married by 18. Media occasionally highlighted the problem of early and forced marriage common among some ethnic groups. Under the constitution the qadi courts retained jurisdiction over Muslim marriage and family law in cases where all parties profess the Muslim religion and agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts. NGOs reported an increase in child, early, and forced marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more vulnerable to the practice. In July authorities rescued a 12-year-old girl from two marriages in one month alone. The girl was initially identified to marry a 51-year-old man and then a 35-year-old man.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children, including prohibiting procurement of a child younger than age 18 for unlawful sexual relations. The law also prohibits domestic and international trafficking, or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer, or receipt of children up to the age of 18 for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances. Provisions apply equally to girls and boys. The law has provisions regarding child trafficking, child sex tourism, child prostitution, and child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Nevertheless, according to human rights organizations, children were sexually exploited and victims of trafficking.
The Directorate of Criminal Investigations continued to expand its Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit, which is responsible for investigating cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse, providing guidance to police officers across the country on cases involving children, and liaising with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Department of Children Services to identify and rescue abused children.
NGOs, international organizations, and local officials expressed concerns with reports of rising number of pregnancies among teenage girls, resulting in part from increased sexual abuse and exploitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Rescue Committee reported that at Dadaab refugee camp, reported teenage pregnancies increased 28 percent during the April to June period, compared with the same period in 2019.
Displaced Children: Poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS continued to intensify the problem of child homelessness. Street children faced harassment and physical and sexual abuse from police and others and within the juvenile justice system. The government operated programs to place street children in shelters and assisted NGOs in providing education, skills training, counseling, legal advice, and medical care to street children whom the commercial sex industry abused and exploited.
Children continued to face protection risks in urban areas, particularly unaccompanied and separated children. Alternative care arrangements, such as foster care placement, were in place for a limited number of children. In addition government child protection services and the children’s department often stepped in to provide protection to children at risk, particularly unaccompanied children.
In November a year-long BBC undercover investigation found babies and young children were being stolen, primarily from homeless or low-income women in urban areas of Nairobi, then sold for substantial profits. Illegal clinic workers or criminal groups abducted or purchased some of the children, while other cases reportedly involved staff at government-run hospitals. In late November the National Police Service announced police arrested three medical officers at a public hospital in Nairobi related to the case, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection stated it had formed a special team to address the matter.
Institutionalized Children: A special report published by the Standard newspaper in September 2019 alleged minors in children’s homes under the care of the Child Welfare Society of Kenya (CWSK) suffered poor living conditions, mistreatment, and lack of proper medical care and education. A local news outlet broadcast an investigative report in October 2019 alleging that CWSK, against the advice of licensed medical practitioners, took children with significant disabilities to unlicensed facilities for experimental treatments. In January the High Court ruled in favor of the CWSK CEO, reinstated her to her position, and lifted an earlier freeze on the society’s bank accounts. The court required the CWSK board of directors to forward any gifts or donations to the board of trustees, and the board of trustees nominated two representatives to oversee the daily operations of CWSK.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The Jewish community is small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Several laws limit the rights of persons with disabilities. For example, the Marriage Act limits the rights of persons with mental disabilities to marry, and the Law of Succession limits the rights of persons with disabilities to inheritance. The constitution provides for legal representation of persons with disabilities in legislative and appointive bodies. The law provides that persons with disabilities should have access to public buildings, and some buildings in major cities had wheelchair ramps and modified elevators and restrooms. The government did not enforce the law, however, and new construction often did not include specific accommodations for persons with disabilities. Government buildings in rural areas generally were not accessible to persons with disabilities. According to NGOs, police stations remained largely inaccessible to persons with mobility and other physical disabilities.
NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted persons with disabilities. One survey found 92 percent of respondents said their daily lives had been affected by the pandemic, pinpointing factors such as limited transport; restricted movement; a lack of available necessities; lack of contact with others at school, church, and social functions; reduced income; and job or income loss. Of respondents, 39 percent reported experiencing discrimination due to their disability, including exclusion from vital services.
The constitution states every person has the right to education, yet NGOs reported persons with disabilities had limited opportunities to obtain education and job training at any level due to lack of accessibility of facilities and resistance by school officials and parents to devoting resources to students with disabilities. Obtaining employment was also difficult. Data from the Public Service Commission indicated that, of 251 institutions evaluated on inclusion of persons with disabilities in fiscal years that spanned 2017 and 2018, only 10 institutions complied with the 5 percent requirement for employment of persons with disabilities.
Authorities received reports of killings of persons with disabilities as well as torture and abuse, and the government acted in some cases.
Persons with albinism have historically been targets of discrimination and human rights abuses. In 2019 human rights groups successfully lobbied to include a question on albinism in the August national census, the first time persons with albinism were counted. An NGO reported some persons with albinism experienced increased discrimination during the year due to unfounded fears they were more likely to carry the COVID-19 virus.
Persons with disabilities faced significant barriers to accessing health care. They had difficulty obtaining HIV testing and contraceptive services due to the perception they should not engage in sexual activity. According to the NGO Humanity & Inclusion, 36 percent of persons with disabilities reported facing difficulties in accessing health services; cost, distance to a health facility, and physical barriers were the main reasons cited.
Few facilities provided interpreters or other accommodations to persons with hearing disabilities. The government assigned each region a sign language interpreter for court proceedings. Authorities often delayed or adjourned cases involving persons who had hearing disabilities due to a lack of standby interpreters, according to NGO reports.
According to a report by a coalition of disability advocate groups, persons with disabilities often did not receive the procedural or other accommodations they needed to participate equally in criminal justice processes as victims of crime.
The Ministry for Devolution and Planning is the lead ministry for implementation of the law to protect persons with disabilities. The quasi-independent but government-funded parastatal National Council for Persons with Disabilities assisted the ministry. Neither entity received sufficient resources to address effectively problems related to persons with disabilities.
According to a 2017 NGO report to the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, persons with disabilities made up only 2.8 percent of the Senate and National Assembly, less than the 5 percent mandated by the constitution (see section 3).
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The 2019 census recognized 45 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas. Competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast.
There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes over county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions.
In April a government task force attributed tribal clashes in Narok County to disputes over land ownership, sharing of local resources, and boundaries as well as incitement by local politicians. In May media reported at least 20 persons had died during the year due to clashes between Maasai and the Kipsigis, a subgroup of the Kalenjin tribe. In September, two Maasai clans signed a peace agreement to end a dispute that had lasted more than four decades.
Conflict continued among the various communities living in Eastern Mau Forest in Nakuru County due to long-running disputes over land, cattle rustling, and competition for resources. In July, eight persons died, 83 were injured, and more than 198 houses burned. More than 3,000 families were displaced, and the government imposed a five-day curfew. In September, one person died and 12 others were injured after renewed fighting.
Media reported at least 30 persons died in June and July during tribal clashes in Marsabit County along the border with Ethiopia. In September the National Cohesion and Integration Commission facilitated peace talks between leaders of the ethnic communities.
Ethnic differences also caused a number of discriminatory employment practices (see section 7.d.).
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which was interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted, and seven years for “attempting” said activity. The law also criminalizes acts of “gross indecency” between men, whether in public or in private, with five years’ imprisonment. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly persons suspected of prostitution, but released them shortly afterward. In August police arrested two men in Kakamega County for engaging in homosexual acts.
In 2016 LGBTI activists filed two petitions challenging the constitutionality of these penal codes. In May 2019 the High Court issued a ruling upholding the laws criminalizing homosexuality, citing insufficient evidence they violate LGBTI rights and claiming repealing the law would contradict the 2010 constitution that stipulates marriage is between a man and woman. The LGBTI community filed an appeal against this ruling. Leading up to the hearing of this case, and in its wake, the LGBTI community experienced increased ostracism and harassment.
LGBTI organizations reported police more frequently used public-order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTI individuals. NGOs reported police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTI individuals in custody.
Authorities permitted LGBTI advocacy organizations to register and conduct activities.
The 2010 constitution does not explicitly protect LGBTI persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals were widespread. In October an LGBTI rights organization reported an increase in conversion therapy and practices. It attributed this increase to the fact many LGBTI persons had returned to hostile community environments after losing their jobs during the pandemic. Some LGBTI groups also reported an increase in abuses cases against LGBTI persons during the pandemic.
In 2019 a government-appointed task force found only 10 percent of the intersex population completed tertiary education, only 5 percent recognized themselves as intersex due to lack of awareness, and the majority lacked birth certificates, which caused numerous problems, including inability to obtain a national identity card.
While the country grants refugee status to persons whose persecution is due to the individual’s sexual orientation, some LGBTI refugees continued to face stigma and discrimination. They were often compelled to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to protect themselves. National organizations working with LGBTI persons offered support to refugees who were LGBTI, including access to safety networks and specialized health facilities. In July, UNHCR released a statement calling for dialogue between refugee communities in Kakuma refugee camp following conflicting reports of violence, including reports by a small group of LGBTI refugees that they were the victims of harassment and violence. Police and local authorities increased security measures in response.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The government, along with international and NGO partners, made progress in creating an enabling environment to combat the social stigma of HIV and AIDS and to address the gap in access to HIV information and services. The government and NGOs expanded their staffing support at county levels for counseling and testing centers to ensure provision of free HIV/AIDS diagnosis. In addition to the launch of the second Beyond Zero Campaign to stop HIV infections, the government expanded inclusion of diverse populations in provision of HIV services through 47 mobile clinics and medical camp safaris across the country. The government was also supporting programs to ensure nondiscrimination and undertaking a community-led stigma index study.
Stigma nonetheless continued to hinder efforts to educate the public about HIV/AIDS and to provide testing and treatment services. The government continued to support the HIV Tribunal to handle all legal matters related to stigma and discrimination. The tribunal, however, lacked sufficient funding to carry out its mandate across all 47 counties and thus still functioned only out of Nairobi.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence and vigilante action were common in areas where the populace lacked confidence in the criminal justice system. In June demonstrators stormed Lessos Police Station in Nandi County after a police officer fatally shot a man who intervened when the officer demanded a bribe from a person not wearing a facemask. Protesters set fire to the police commander’s house, and police killed another two persons during the violence. IPOA reported it was finalizing its investigation and stated the officers involved were under internal disciplinary actions. The social acceptability of mob violence also provided cover for acts of personal vengeance. Police frequently failed to act to stop mob violence.
In October, two persons died and several were injured in Muranga County following street battles between youth factions allied to different political actors. Media outlets reported politicians instigated the violence by mobilizing and paying youth from outside areas. The governmental National Cohesion and Integration Commission condemned the violence, warning political tensions could lead to further violent conflicts ahead of the 2022 national elections.
Landowners formed groups in some parts of the country to protect their interests from rival groups or thieves. Reports indicated politicians often funded these groups or provided them with weapons, particularly around election periods.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones, to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. For the union to be recognized as a bargaining agent, it must represent a simple majority of the employees in a firm eligible to join the union. This provision extends to public- and private-sector employees. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.
The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example, the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. A bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection typically referred disputes to mediation, fact finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labour Relations Court, a body of up to 12 judges that has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and that operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. The Employment and Labour Relations Court also has subregistries in Meru, Bungoma, Eldoret, Malindi, Machakos, and Garissa.
By law workers who provide essential services, interpreted as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” may not strike. Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
Strikes must concern terms of employment, and sympathy strikes are prohibited.
The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines and advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Labour Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. Labor laws apply to all groups of workers. Penalties for labor law violations were not commensurate with those for similar offenses.
The government enforced the decisions of the Labour Relations Court inconsistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the Labour Relations Court’s decisions to a branch of the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Labour Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns regarding the long delays and lack of efficacy of the court.
The Labour Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed most cases directly without referral to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for conciliation. The court had a significant backlog.
The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was challenging, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step. The 2016 employment and labor relations (procedure) rules provide parties access to file pleadings directly in electronic form, pretrial procedures, and alternative dispute resolution. The rules also set a 30-day time limit for the court to submit a report on disagreements over collective bargaining agreements filed.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.
Airport workers at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport went on strike in March to protest potential restructuring of the airport. Six striking workers were injured during clashes with police, and 10 members of the Kenya Aviation Workers Union, including its secretary general, were arrested. After negotiation, the union agreed to end the strike in exchange for release of the arrested union officials and an agreement not to fire striking workers.
Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections, although domestic workers’ unions exist to protect their interests.
The government maintained labor attaches in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to regulate and coordinate contracts of migrant workers from the country and promote overseas job opportunities. The National Employment Authority manages a website that provides information to prospective migrant workers on the procedures of becoming a migrant worker in the Gulf. The Ministry of East African Community and Regional Development also helped domestic workers understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements. The government operationalized a 2017 bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia in January after revetting recruitment agencies in Riyadh. The government has additional bilateral agreements with Qatar and United Arab Emirates. The ministry has a directorate to regulate the conduct of labor agents for local migrant workers, including requiring the posting of a performance-guarantee bond for each worker.
The misuse of internships and other forms of transitional employment threatened the survival of trade unions, with employers often not hiring employees after an internship ends. State agencies increasingly outsourced jobs to the private sector, and in the private sector, casual workers were employed on short-term contracts.
This shift contributed to declining numbers in trade unions. NGOs and trade unionists reported replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the export-processing zones, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of three years.
The health sector experienced strikes precipitated by challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health workers, through their associations, issued strike notices citing failure by the government to meet their workplace demands, including adequate personal protective equipment while attending to COVID-19 patients. Counties like Nairobi and Trans Nzoia witnessed strikes by health workers. The health sector also witnessed industrial strikes by county government health professionals to protest delayed salary payments. The strikes occurred intermittently in various counties, since under the 2010 constitution, each county manages its own health system as part of the devolution of resources and services from the national government. According to the Council of Governors, all 47 counties faced delayed salaries for July due to government delay in disbursement of funds. The strikes affected delivery of services in counties such as Vihiga, Kisumu, and Nairobi, but negotiations averted some threatened strikes.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The law allowed, in some situations, up to 60 days of compulsory labor per year for the preservation of natural resources. The country made moderate advances to prevent or eliminate forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred, including forced child labor (see section 7.c.). Certain legal provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor, including for political offenses. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Forms of forced labor included debt bondage, trafficking of workers, and compulsion of persons, even family members, to work as domestic servants. Domestic workers from Uganda, herders from Ethiopia, and others from Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi were subjected to forced labor in the country; however, this trend was reportedly decreasing.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for work (other than apprenticeships) is 17, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The ministry published a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that constitute the worst forms of child labor. This list includes but is not limited to scavenging, carrying stones and rocks, metalwork, working with machinery, mining, and stone crushing. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices similar to slavery; child soldiering (see section 6); prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys. The International Labor Organization identified gaps in the law with regards to children working as cadets at sea.
The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which are legally categorized as hazardous work.
The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. The law does not prohibit child labor for children employed outside the scope of a contractual agreement. Child labor in the informal sector was widespread, but the government did not effectively monitor or control it.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection enforces child labor laws, but enforcement remained inconsistent. Supplementary programs, such as the International Labor Organization-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program, helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These programs identified children who were working illegally, removed them from hazardous work conditions, and referred them to appropriate service providers.
The government also worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions and the Federation of Kenyan Employers to eliminate child labor.
In support of child protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection operated a national online database system. The Child Protection Information Management System collects, aggregates, and reports on child protection data that informs policy decisions and budgeting for orphans and vulnerable children. The web-based system allows for an aggregate format of data to be made available to all the child protection stakeholders. The government had six child protection centers, which remove child laborers from the workplace, rehabilitate them, and provide counseling and life-skills training.
The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program for Results, a project that seeks to establish an effective national safety net program for poor and vulnerable households, and the Decent Work Country Program, a project designed to advance economic opportunities. Under these programs, the government pays households sheltering orphans or other vulnerable children to deter the children from dropping out of school and engaging in forced labor. For example, there were some cases reported in the western part of the country of girls dropping out of secondary school and engaging in sex work to afford basic supplies.
Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of khat. Children worked in mining, including in artisanal gold mines, small quarries, and sand mines. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, fetching and selling water, selling food, and forced begging. Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory child labor, such as in agricultural labor and domestic service, but also including commercial sexual exploitation.
Most of the trafficking of children within the country appeared related to domestic labor, with migrant children trafficked from rural to urban areas.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, and several other criteria, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several regulatory statutes explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; provide a legal framework for a requirement for the public and private sectors to reserve 5 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; provide tax relief and incentives for such persons and their organizations; and reserve 30 percent of public-procurement tenders for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, received slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but it was more frequently experienced by women. Women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment.
Many county governors appointed and employed disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county, bypassing minority groups. These problems were aggravated by the devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises (see section 1.d.).
In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group. A report detailing the ethnic composition of 417 senior civil service staff tabled at the Senate in September indicated that four tribes dominated high-level management positions in civil service. The dominant ethnic community had 29 percent of the 417 positions, while the second had 10 percent.
The law provides protection for persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, although many employers discriminated against persons with disabilities during hiring processes (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Due to societal discrimination, there were very limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism. There are no legal employment protections for LGBTI persons, who remained vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category. The minimum wage for all occupations exceeded the World Bank poverty rate.
The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers) and provides premium pay for overtime.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Authorities reported workweek and overtime violations. Workers in some enterprises, particularly in the export processing zones and those in road construction, claimed employers forced them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.
The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites but employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to conduct regular inspections. Fines generally were insufficient to deter violations.
The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees.
The law provides for labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. The government paid low salaries to labor inspectors and did not provide vehicles, fuel, or other resources, making it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and leaving them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption. The State Department for Labor faced a large number of retiring labor inspectors during the year, and there was no hiring of new inspectors.
The law provides social protections for workers employed in the formal and informal sectors. Informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions. All local employers, including those in the informal sector, are required to contribute to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund; these provide health insurance and pensions respectively.
Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.