By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI, May 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Kenyan High Court has ordered police to reinvestigate complaints of rape by 11 girls in a landmark 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.
Mercy Chidi, who runs the Ripples International children's charity in Meru, Kenya, filed a petition on behalf of the girls, who came to the charity for help after being raped by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, police officers and neighbors.
The police rarely investigated their complaints, even locking one girl in a cell after she reported one of their colleagues had raped her, Chidi said.
Police demanded bribes to investigate rape, refused to investigate unless the victims produced witnesses, and said victims had consented to intercourse, the victims said.
The court order released late on Tuesday in Meru, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Nairobi, said police contributed to a culture of tolerance for sexual violence against girls.
"Perpetrators know they can commit crimes against innocent children without fear of being apprehended and prosecuted," the court said.
"The respondents showed disbelief, blamed the victims, humiliated them, yelled at and ignored them."
Police who failed to enforce the law now risked arrest, fines and imprisonment, said a lawyer for the girls, Fiona Sampson of The Equality Effect, an international legal rights network.
"It is a huge victory for the individual girls and for girls across Kenya and, I would say, Africa," she said.
The Equality Effect is supporting similar claims in Ghana and Malawi, and has been approached by groups in Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo asking for legal assistance to initiate cases.
One in five women and girls are victims of sexual violence in Kenya, according to a 2008/09 government survey. Rape is rarely reported due to stigma and lack of faith in the justice system, although there are strong laws against sexual assault.
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Sonya Hepinstall)