Kenya must take action to protect women with disabilities against forced sterilisation

Today, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) opens its 14th session in Geneva to review the disability rights records of six governments along with the European Union. MDAC and Kenyan partners have submitted a detailed report to the UN regarding Kenya's implementation of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the country ratified in 2008. The report provides detailed information on the way in which the decision-making rights of people with mental disabilities are restricted in practice, including the sexual and reproductive rights of women with mental disabilities.

Click on the image to view the storyboard and read 'The Right to Legal Capacity in Kenya'. (c) MDAC.

Partners – including Users and Survivors of Psychiatry Kenya (USPK), the Kenyan Association of the Intellectually Handicapped (KAIH) – pointed out that Kenya has yet to take concrete action to implement Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which protects the right to decide for people with disabilities. Kenyan law still allows for people with disabilities to be placed under guardianship, and refers to people with mental health issues as ‘lunatics’ and people of ‘unsound mind’. Although formal guardianship procedures appear to be rare, they are generally used to deny people the right to manage their land or property.

Last year, USPK and MDAC published the first ever report on the right to legal capacity in Kenya. The research showed that the lives of people with mental health issues and people with intellectual disabilities are frequently limited informally by family members, friends and communities members. The report, based on over 40 interviews and extensive research, shows how widespread social stigma and prejudices led to many people with mental disabilities in the country to experience discrimination in numerous areas of their lives, including denial of education, work, social inclusion, and barriers to accessing justice.

This most recent submission provides information to the CRPD Committee on the country's compliance with international law, and points out that many Kenyans with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities are denied the right to decide even in the most private areas of life. In particular, the report calls for action against forced sterilisation of women with disabilities, which was uncovered as a serious and potentially widespread problem. One victim who lived in a residential institution said that she had been sterilised without her consent:

"Nobody asked me. They should have asked me, because I love children...I feel bad, but what can I do now?"

MDAC and partners call on the Kenyan Government to take action to strengthen the autonomy of people with mental disabilities through abolishing discriminatory legislation, strengthening protections against forced and coercive treatments, and through ensuring that victims of human rights violations are able to access justice through the courts. Crucially, we also call on the Government to provide greater information to the public about the rights of people with mental disabilities. The Government should also prioritise actions in other areas, including dismantling barriers to political participation and should repeal recent legislation which restricts the marriage rights of people with mental disabilities, in direct contravention of the Article 29 CRPD.

The CRPD Committee will review Kenya's implementation of the Convention on 18th and 19th August in Geneva, Switzerland. You can follow the dialogue online by clicking here

The partners would like to thank Herbert Smith Freehills and Mburugu & Kayonge Associates law firms for contributing to the alternative report.


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