Public Opinion is Clear: Urgent Legislation Required to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation! Read the story

Interview with Joy Katunge Matheka

Posted on Apr 28, 2022

Joy Katunge Matheka is an advocate of the high court of Kenya with over 9 years’ experience in child protection. She works for Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children as a Legal Officer. Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children (KAACR), a member of ECPAT International.
Joy, holds an LLB from Kenyatta and a post graduate diploma in Law from Kenya School of Law was recognized and awarded by the Law Society of Kenya-Nairobi as the civil Society Lawyer of the year 2021.

Q. Congratulations on your well-deserved award. What are the main issues that you, as a frontline worker in the legal field and beyond facing when it comes to the sexual exploitation of children?

A. Thank you! The award is an opportunity for me to do more in the protection of children against abuse and exploitation.

Some of the issues we face are under-reporting of these cases. Despite the law being very clear and criminalizing sexual offences against children, these cases hardly get reported to the authorities. Some reasons are such as low awareness on child rights as well as the reporting platforms. The slow wheels of justice also serve as a serious impediment to access of justice for children.

Q. How has the pandemic exasperated/changed the dynamic of this issue?

A. In Kenya, it has worsened the situation. At the onset of the pandemic, we had a curfew and lockdown which meant most of the services needed by child victims of sexual exploitation could not be accessed. More to this, children were away from school which is a safety net, this meant that more children stood the risk of abuse. The increase in use of internet for education, communication and entertainment while at home saw a sharp increase in the cases on Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. On the flip side, it we have more organizations having included child online safety programmes to their work which even before the pandemic, was a real need.

Q. What is the main thing you’d like our readers/an external audience to know about your work and this issue?

Being a lawyer in the civil society space is tasking yet fulfilling. Children’s legal needs are way more than can be addressed by the legal community in this space. It therefore requires concerted efforts in case management by all players within the child protection sector to ensure that no child’s case slips between the cracks and that we work on prevention more to avoid being reactive to issues.

The role of civil society lawyers should be to create awareness about the vice and the legal redresses and to support the child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation by either directly providing legal services or referring them to such. I personally have been able to do so by creating networks of lawyers that offer pro bono services and working with the Law Society of Kenya to provide such services to the indigent through their pool of pro bono lawyers.

Q. How can regular people do their part?

Everyone has a role to play in curbing Sexual exploitation of children. Children issues cut across every sector and we should all make it our individual social responsibility to ensure that children are safe from exploitation and abuse in both offline and online abuse to enable them thrive and realize their potential.

Q. What is the main message you want those in power to know?

A. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow. They determine the space in which your own next generation will grow in and therefore we must invest in them to secure our future. We owe children a duty to protect them from not only sexual abuse and exploitation, but any harm.

Q. What do you think the future holds for your work?

A. I am working towards cutting a niche as being a child protection lawyer with special focus in the emerging areas of child protection. This is because nothing is static, everything is evolving, from the platforms of abuse to the manifestations themselves.

I look forward to mentoring young lawyers to pick interest and fuel their passion in protection of children and to vehemently advocate against all forms of child abuse and exploitation by using the law to address social problems in the society.

Q. Additional closing messages?

A. Thank you for the opportunity to share experience and even recognition of my service towards children. Children are like wet cement: whatever falls on them makes an impression…. strive to make the right impression!