June 24, 2014 / 3:06 PM / 3 years ago

Kenya gang rape trial that triggered protests, petition begins

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The trial of a boy accused of being in a gang that raped a girl began in Kenya on Tuesday after months of campaigning by rights groups seeking justice for the teenager who suffered a broken back when she was dumped in a latrine pit after the attack.

Hundreds of people marched to the office of the head of the police in the capital Nairobi last year after officers initially just made the suspects cut the grass at a police compound.

The protesters carried placards including “Slashing grass is not a punishment for rape”, as well as hanging underwear on the padlocked gate. Another protest was staged on Monday in the western town of Busia, where the trial was being heard.

An international online petition has been signed by 1.7 million people to demand justice for the 16-year-old, referred to as “Liz” to protect her identity.

She told a magistrate in Busia how she was raped by six boys, five of whom are still at large, an official at the chief prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday about the closed hearing. No details were given about the age of the suspects.

Her ordeal took place a year ago as she was walking home from her grandfather’s funeral, and while she is no longer in a wheelchair, she suffered internal injuries during the attack.

The director of public prosecutions in Kenya said on Twitter that the case had been adjourned until Sept. 11 and 12. He also said that Busia county police chief had been summoned to court on Aug. 7 to explain why the five others had not be detained.

Rape is rarely reported in the east African nation due to stigma and lack of faith in the justice system, although there are strong laws against sexual assault.

Campaigners said the case exposed the plight of victims of sexual violence in the health sector and its justice system.

“It is not taken with the seriousness that all crimes deserve. It is taken as more of a social problem, boys behaving badly and therefore is not treated with the seriousness it deserves,” Joan Nyanyuki executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), told Reuters by phone.

COVAW is providing the girl with legal representation.

Nyanyuki said because the case involved minors, Tuesday’s hearing was closed to the public and the reporters. Another 10 witnesses will be called to testify for the prosecution.

“We want to bring it to people’s attention that this is happening every day, everywhere in Kenya and is just being brushed below the carpet,” Nyanyuki said.

In May last year, a Kenyan court ordered police to re-investigate complaints of rape by 11 girls in a case brought by a children’s charity on behalf of more than 240 victims of child rape, some of them as young as three years old.

Reporting by George Obulutsa, Humphrey Malalo and Katy Migiro; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alison Williams

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