In Kenya, if you are under 18 years of age, there are things you cannot do. These include; voting, holding an elective position, driving, working, marring, suing or being sued and so on.
I have been working with teenage boys and girls the past seven years. I get to meet many adolescents from all walks of life. In Nairobi where access to information is relatively easy, there are parts of northern Kenya where most adolescents do not know the popular social media platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook. It is amazing to see the difference between a 16-year-old in Nairobi and their counterpart in Samburu.
Two days ago, I was walking from home to work when I met two young boys probably between the ages of 10 and 12 shouting “Wamlambez” and other kid shouted back “Wanyonyez.” To my astonishment, all the passers-by, myself included, started laughing. I believe that most of us did not even understand what these children were saying and obviously others did.
There is Swahili phrase that “Mtoto ni wa jamii (a child belongs to the society).” Growing up, whenever we did something wrong as children, we would be punished by neighbours, in the absence of our parents. You might recall this as well, parents took responsibility of children who were their own. I was careful on what I listened to, what I said, where I went among other things. Was I bothered by this fact? No. I still had my freedom. But I had to be careful. My upbringing was of course with challenges and temptations.
Ezekiel Mutua the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Film and Classification Board recently came out and said that “Wamlembez” and “Tetema’ songs have been banned in public places and could only be played in bars. According to Mr. Mutua “both songs are pure pornography despite the fact that their lyrics are coded.” If you check on Youtu
be Tetema has over 27 million views and Wamlambez has over 3.9 million views. I have even met some teenagers who have these songs as their ringtone. Too late Mr. Ezekiel!
In Kenya one needs to attain the age of 18 before they can engage in some activities. A debate is currently ongoing on whether the age of sexual consent should be reduced to 16 or remain at 18. While others argue that 16-year-olds are having sex anyway and that they should be taught about safe sex. others say the age consent should even be increased to 21 or above. Which side are you?
Have we lost our morals or is this a case of some few perpetrators who want to take advantage of children? Whose responsibility is it to take care of children? I may not have an answer to these questions, but I do know that something is wrong with our society.
I find the argument that 16-year-olds are having sex and therefore they should be taught and allowed to have safe sex lame. Is there anything like safe sex anyway? These adolescent boys and girls are consuming content that should not even reach them. No one is taking responsibility. Instead we are cheering the producers of this content and are willing to give them audience. Very few people are teaching these children about good morals; if anything they have few role models.
I recently visited a village in Samburu where about 20 boys had just been circumcised. Here it is called a rite of passage for the boys. The eldest says that until they are released again in the society they will be taught about values and culture of the Maa community. During this time, all the boys are in isolation being guided through the do and don’ts of life. The women as well have the responsibility of guided the girls.
Before we start discussing whether the age of sexual consent should be 16, 18 or even be increased to 21 years we ought to ask ourselves how we got here.
Victor Odhiambo is the Executive Director of Garden of Hope Foundation.