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Kenyan Rapist Sentenced to Life in Prison - 2003-12-10

A Kenyan convicted of raping a four-year-old girl was sentenced earlier this week to life in prison under a tough new law. Until the mandatory life sentencing law was enacted earlier this year, rapists in Kenya could get away with a few months in jail.

The life sentence of convicted rapist Paul Ngure Ngigi is the first in Kenya's history.

The legal officer of the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect, Catherine Tongoi, says she hopes the sentence signals a radical change in the way Kenyans view rape, especially the rape of a child.

"This, I hope, will be a turning point for the rights of children, in fact, not only girls, but even boys, because we have boys also who are sodomized at a very early age," she said.

Ms. Tongoi says it was thanks to widespread publicity - including a high-profile visit to the girl in a hospital by eight women members of parliament - and the victim's tender age that aroused the nation's sympathy and fury.

Ngigi was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor Monday after being found guilty of snatching the sick girl from her home last December in Nairobi and raping her. The girl was found unconscious the next morning.

Until recently, the maximum penalty for rape was 14 years. But last July, the criminal code was amended to impose a mandatory life term for the rape of a minor.

Ms. Tongoi says her organization receives a minimum of two cases of child abuse each month, and, until now, those convicted got away with two to four years in jail on average. She says some cases are even being downgraded to indecent assault, which is punishable by a few months in jail.

A sociologist with the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, Enos Njeru, says he believes judges are more aware of the increased anger many Kenyans feel about the rape of children in particular.

"Now you are getting judicial officers that are listening to the feelings of the people, that are listening to the wishes of the people," said Enos Njeru.

Mr. Njeru says the increased presence of women in Parliament, the judiciary, and other places of authority, as well as a widening recognition of women's rights, played a role in the life sentence and the outrage society felt about the rape.