Ms. Florence Simbiri-Jaoko
Kenya National Commission for Human Rights
Dear Ms. Simbiri-Jaoko:
We are writing to you following a fruitful meeting with Commissioner Winfred Lichuma in December 2008 on the lack of treatment for HIV-positive children in Kenya. We presented her with our report on the matter, A Question of Life or Death: Treatment Access for Children Living With HIV in Kenya, and discussed some of the rights violations that still result in children dying from HIV, even now when the medicines are available free of charge.
We are now writing to you to request the Commission to give greater consideration and attention to these critical children's rights issues. We note that the Commission does not have a dedicated commissioner working on children's rights, nor has it mainstreamed child rights issues into its ongoing work.
As the statutory body with the appropriate mandate, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission has a key role to play in raising awareness about children's rights in Kenya, and in guiding different government organs towards a child rights-based approach. Based on our work, we see two possible areas of children's rights which would benefit from the attention of the Commission, while acknowledging that there are many other important child rights concerns in Kenya.
1) Children infected and affected by HIV
Tens of thousands of children are in urgent need of anti-retroviral treatment but are not getting it. Our research has identified the main barriers to treatment as: abuse and neglect of HIV-positive children; lack of HIV services on the local level; lack of information about HIV and treatment availability; and economic barriers, including food insecurity.
Child testing also poses particular problems; older children and adolescents may have to seek parental consent for testing, even when they wish to test without parental knowledge. Children may not be able to refuse testing; they are sometimes not informed about their HIV status; and counsellors are often untrained in child counselling.
Children orphaned by HIV are vulnerable to a wide range of abuses, such as discrimination, property-grabbing, lack of access to education and health care, violence, abuse and neglect on the part of their caregivers, and labor and sexual exploitation.
We suggest that the National Human Rights Commission consider:
- Carrying out a campaign to fight stigma and discrimination against children living with HIV/AIDS, and to promote children's rights, including the right to health, protection from violence, and property rights violations, in coordination with the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry for Gender and Children Affairs. Such a campaign could also include information about available child HIV services.
- Offering guidance to the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Medical Services on rights-related questions, such as the child's right to information about health, participation in health care, and confidentiality in health care.
2) Violence against children
Violence against children in the home, in schools, and in other settings is a serious problem in Kenya, despite protections in the Children's Act. The 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children helped define the issue on the international level, but little has been done to implement the study's recommendations in Kenya. We request that you consider:
- Developing and implementing a plan of action to end violence against children, including children living with HIV and street children, as recommended by the study, in consultation with the Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and other relevant ministries.
- Fully banning corporal punishment in all settings, through amendments to the Children's Act and the Education Act.
We would be pleased to assist in helping the KNCHR work on these issues in whatever way we can. We thank you for the interest in our work and hope to stay in contact.
Senior Researcher, Children's Rights Division
Human Rights Watch
Cc: Wilfred O. Lichuma, Commissioner