Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results.
The National Police Service maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence internally as well as externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post disaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by the terrorist group al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by the government; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.
Al-Shabaab staged deadly attacks on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. In January militants carried out five attacks, killing more than a dozen persons, including three teachers and four children. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterror operations.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, defilement (statutory rape), domestic violence, and sex tourism, but enforcement remained limited. The law’s definition of domestic violence includes sexual violence within marriage, early and forced marriage, FGM/C, forced wife “inheritance,” damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person. The law does not explicitly criminalize spousal rape. Insulting the modesty of another person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or stripping them of clothing are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years.
The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape when the victim is older than 18, although sentences were at the discretion of the judge and usually no longer than the minimum of 10 years (see also section 6, Children). Citizens frequently used traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms, including maslaha in Muslim communities, to address sexual offenses in rural areas, with village elders assessing financial compensation for the victims or their families. They also used such mechanisms occasionally in urban areas.
The judiciary recorded 10,510 cases of sexual and gender-based violence filed in court between July 2018 and June 2019. The NGO Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya reported arrests and prosecutions of sexual violence cases remained low, even in cases in which victims identified perpetrators, due to limited police resources to conduct investigations, insufficient evidence collection and handling mechanisms, and lengthy court proceedings, which made it difficult and expensive for victims to pursue cases.
Although police no longer required physicians to examine victims, physicians still had to complete official forms reporting rape. Rural areas generally had no police physician, and in Nairobi there were only three. NGOs reported police stations often but inconsistently accepted the examination report of clinical physicians who initially treated rape victims. In 2019 police launched the National Police Service Standard Operating Procedures on addressing gender-based violence. These procedures aim to standardize the varying quality of care that victims receive and provide a guide to police officers who do not have the relevant training.
Authorities cited domestic violence as the leading cause of preventable, nonaccidental death for women. Except in cases of death, police officers generally refrained from investigating domestic violence, which they considered a private family matter.
NGOs expressed concerns regarding rising incidents of sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the chief justice cited a spike in cases involving sexual offenses, noting some perpetrators were family members or close friends of the victims. A national helpline supported by the Department of Gender Affairs reported cases rose from 86 in February to more than 1,100 in June. Cases decreased in July, but the total number of calls was four times higher than during the same period in the previous year. Survivors of sexual violence were unable to report crimes or seek medical treatment during curfew hours.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law makes it illegal to practice FGM/C, procure the services of someone who practices FGM/C, or send a person out of the country to undergo the procedure. The law also makes it illegal to make derogatory remarks about a woman who has not undergone FGM/C. Government officials often participated in public-awareness programs to prevent the practice. Nevertheless, individuals practiced FGM/C widely, particularly in some rural areas. According to a study by UNICEF published in March, despite the legal prohibition of FGM/C and progress made by the government in eliminating the practice, myths supporting the practice remained deep-rooted in some local cultures. The study concluded approximately 21 percent of adult women ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure some time in their lives, but the practice was heavily concentrated in a few communities, including the Maasai (78 percent), Samburu (86 percent), and Somali (94 percent).
As part of the government’s initiative to end FGM/C by 2022, the Ministry of Public Service, Youth, and Gender Affairs continued work with county officials and nonstate actors to improve enforcement of the FGM/C law. This included education and advocacy efforts as well as prosecutions of those violating the law. NGOs and government officials reported a significant increase of FGM/C cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more vulnerable. Many FGM/C rescue centers were closed partially or even totally due to the pandemic. Media reported arrests of perpetrators and parents who agreed to FGM/C, but parents in regions with a high prevalence of FGM/C frequently bribed police to allow the practice to continue. There were also reports FGM/C increasingly occurred in secret to avoid prosecution. County officials in areas with a high prevalence of FGM/C noted many cases targeted infants, with one recent government study finding an estimated 61 percent of girls younger than five in one county had undergone the procedure.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Certain communities practiced wife inheritance, in which a man inherits the widow of his brother or other close relative, regardless of her wishes. The practice was more likely in cases of economically disadvantaged women with limited access to education living outside of major cities.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Sexual harassment was often not reported, and victims rarely filed charges.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution recognizes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Exercising this right, however, remained challenging due to the prohibitive costs of contraception for some persons, the limited information and services that were available, and cultural and religious norms in some areas that discouraged the use of modern contraceptives and gave men decision-making authority over women. Subsidized contraception options, including condoms, birth control pills, and long-acting or permanent methods, were widely available to both men and women, although access was more difficult in rural areas.
The country’s 2010 constitution states, “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” The penal code criminalizes the provision of abortions (14 years’ imprisonment), attempts to obtain or self-administer an abortion (seven years’ imprisonment), and supplying drugs or instruments used in an abortion (three years’ imprisonment).
According to the UN Population Division, 77 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had their needs for family planning satisfied with modern methods. A 2019 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that more than half of sexually active adolescent women between the ages of 15 and 19 who did not want to become pregnant had an unmet need for modern contraception and that almost two-thirds of pregnancies among this age group were unintended. The adolescent birth rate was 96 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, according to UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Access to sexual and reproductive health information by adolescents remained a problem due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, low coverage of youth-friendly services, and a lack of adequate stocks of contraceptives in public hospitals.
According to the UNFPA, 56 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own decisions regarding health care, contraception, and sex with their husbands or partners. NGOs reported that it was more difficult for marginalized groups–including LGBTI persons, women with disabilities, displaced persons, and persons with HIV–to access reproductive health information and services. Families of girls with disabilities sometimes colluded with medical professionals to sterilize them as a means of protecting them from sexual violence, according to a disability rights activist. In 2018 the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the government for prohibiting the NGO Marie Stopes Kenya from providing reproductive health information to women and girls following allegations the NGO was promoting abortion. The case remained pending at year’s end.
Skilled obstetric, prenatal, and postpartum care was available in major hospitals, but many women could not access or afford these services. Skilled health-care personnel attended an estimated 62 percent of births, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. In December a court ruled in favor of four survivors of sexual violence and found the government responsible for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual and gender-based violence during the 2007-2008 postelection violence. The ruling marked the first time that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence received compensation.
Maternity services were free of charge in all public health institutions in the country. The government’s Linda Mama program, a free health insurance plan that covers the pregnancy period and up to three months postdelivery, targeted women in rural and low-income areas and continued to operate during the year. NGOs reported that government measures to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nationwide curfew and movement restrictions, led to an increase in maternal morbidity, a decrease in births attended by skilled health-care personnel, and a decrease in women receiving prenatal and postpartum care during the year.
Maternal deaths accounted for 51 percent of all deaths of women between the ages of 15 and 49, and the maternal mortality rate was 342 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. Unsafe abortion, pregnancy, and birth complications limited access to health services, and harmful cultural practices were cited as among the main causes of maternal death and morbidity. The UNFPA reported that maternal mortality in Mandera County was 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births–the highest in the country–partially due to harmful cultural rites like FGM/C and limited access to health services. In 2019 the High Court ruled that the director of medical services and the Ministry of Health had violated the rights of the country’s women by arbitrarily withdrawing standards and guidelines on reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions. The court directed the government to reinstate the guidelines and reaffirmed the right of survivors of sexual violence to obtain abortions. The Ministry of Health had not reinstated the guidelines as of year’s end.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution provides equal rights for men and women and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth. The justice system widely applied customary laws that discriminated against women, limiting their political and economic rights.
The constitution prohibits gender discrimination in relation to land and property ownership and gives women equal rights to inheritance and access to land. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation for the protection of wives’ rights to matrimonial property during and upon the termination of a marriage, and it affirms parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. According to a June report by Human Rights Watch, women continued to face institutional and legal barriers that hindered their access to justice and a fair share of matrimonial property upon the dissolution of marriage. Additionally, the components of the law that stipulate how to apply for succession were little known, and thus many inheritances continued to pass from fathers to sons only.
Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from the citizenship of the parents, and either parent may transmit citizenship. Birth on the country’s territory does not convey citizenship. Birth registration is compulsory. An estimated 76 percent of births were officially registered in 2019, according to the Kenya Bureau of National Statistics. Lack of official birth certificates resulted in discrimination in delivery of public services. The Department of Civil Registration Services implements the Maternal Child Health Registration Strategy, which requires nurses administering immunizations to register the births of unregistered children. In September the government announced plans to issue children a special minor’s identification document once they reach the age of six. The plan calls for the government to assign children a unique number at birth, which the government will use to issue the card after the child submits biometric data at age six. The same number is then to be used to apply for a national identity card at the age of 18.
Education: By law education is tuition free and compulsory until age 18, although public schools may impose fees for boarding, uniforms, and other expenses. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory attendance law uniformly. The government closed all schools in March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In October the government partially opened schools, but only three grades resumed classes, with the remaining grades scheduled to resume in January 2021.
In January and February, the Teachers Service Commission authorized transfers of more than 1,000 nonlocal teachers from the northeastern counties of Garissa, Mandera, and Wajir due to heightened insecurity, including attacks by suspected al-Shabaab militants targeting nonlocal teachers. The subsequent shortage of teachers threatened the closure of nearly 200 schools, according to a Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report, before the government closed all schools in March. Media reported efforts to hire teachers to fill the vacancies were underway as of year’s end.
While the law provides pregnant girls the right to continue their education until and after giving birth, NGOs reported schools often did not respect this right. School executives sometimes expelled pregnant girls or transferred them to other schools. In recent years media outlets reported a significant number of girls failed to take their final secondary school examinations due to pregnancy. Final examinations were not held during the year due to the pandemic.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes several forms of violence that affect children, including early and forced marriage, FGM/C, incest, and physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Violence against children, particularly in poor and rural communities, was common, and child abuse, including sexual abuse, occurred frequently. In June the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection found nearly half of female children and more than half of male children experienced childhood violence. The study found emotional violence was also common.
In July the president called for an investigation into the rising number of cases of child abuse due to COVID-19 restrictions and immediate prosecutions; 160 cases of sexual and gender-based violence, mainly defilement and neglect, were reported to a government helpline in the first week of May alone. The Teachers Service Commission recommended the removal of 30 teachers due to defilement cases and other sexual offenses.
According to IPOA, most police facilities did not have designated child protection units, and police usually requested the Department of Children Services to take custody of child victims. Although all the police facilities that IPOA inspected during the year had at least one officer designated to handle children cases, only some of the officers had received training on handling these cases, and the police stations did not have sufficient resources to process the large number of cases involving child victims. IPOA found the shortage of designated child protective units made it difficult for officers to record statements from child victims due to the lack of privacy. According to IPOA, police also reported challenges investigating cases such as child rape, since some communities defended the perpetrators and preferred to settle cases through traditional mechanisms.
The minimum sentence for conviction of statutory rape is life imprisonment if the victim is younger than age 11, 20 years in prison if the victim is between ages 11 and 15, and 10 years’ imprisonment if the child is age 16 or 17. Although exact numbers were unavailable, during the year media reported several statutory rape convictions.
The government banned corporal punishment in schools, but there were reports corporal punishment occurred.
Although there were no reports the government recruited child soldiers, there were reports the al-Shabaab terrorist group recruited children in areas bordering Somalia.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 years for women and men. According to UNICEF, 25 percent of girls are married by 18. Media occasionally highlighted the problem of early and forced marriage common among some ethnic groups. Under the constitution the qadi courts retained jurisdiction over Muslim marriage and family law in cases where all parties profess the Muslim religion and agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts. NGOs reported an increase in child, early, and forced marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more vulnerable to the practice. In July authorities rescued a 12-year-old girl from two marriages in one month alone. The girl was initially identified to marry a 51-year-old man and then a 35-year-old man.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children, including prohibiting procurement of a child younger than age 18 for unlawful sexual relations. The law also prohibits domestic and international trafficking, or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer, or receipt of children up to the age of 18 for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances. Provisions apply equally to girls and boys. The law has provisions regarding child trafficking, child sex tourism, child prostitution, and child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Nevertheless, according to human rights organizations, children were sexually exploited and victims of trafficking.
The Directorate of Criminal Investigations continued to expand its Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit, which is responsible for investigating cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse, providing guidance to police officers across the country on cases involving children, and liaising with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Department of Children Services to identify and rescue abused children.
NGOs, international organizations, and local officials expressed concerns with reports of rising number of pregnancies among teenage girls, resulting in part from increased sexual abuse and exploitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Rescue Committee reported that at Dadaab refugee camp, reported teenage pregnancies increased 28 percent during the April to June period, compared with the same period in 2019.
Displaced Children: Poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS continued to intensify the problem of child homelessness. Street children faced harassment and physical and sexual abuse from police and others and within the juvenile justice system. The government operated programs to place street children in shelters and assisted NGOs in providing education, skills training, counseling, legal advice, and medical care to street children whom the commercial sex industry abused and exploited.
Children continued to face protection risks in urban areas, particularly unaccompanied and separated children. Alternative care arrangements, such as foster care placement, were in place for a limited number of children. In addition government child protection services and the children’s department often stepped in to provide protection to children at risk, particularly unaccompanied children.
In November a year-long BBC undercover investigation found babies and young children were being stolen, primarily from homeless or low-income women in urban areas of Nairobi, then sold for substantial profits. Illegal clinic workers or criminal groups abducted or purchased some of the children, while other cases reportedly involved staff at government-run hospitals. In late November the National Police Service announced police arrested three medical officers at a public hospital in Nairobi related to the case, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection stated it had formed a special team to address the matter.
Institutionalized Children: A special report published by the Standard newspaper in September 2019 alleged minors in children’s homes under the care of the Child Welfare Society of Kenya (CWSK) suffered poor living conditions, mistreatment, and lack of proper medical care and education. A local news outlet broadcast an investigative report in October 2019 alleging that CWSK, against the advice of licensed medical practitioners, took children with significant disabilities to unlicensed facilities for experimental treatments. In January the High Court ruled in favor of the CWSK CEO, reinstated her to her position, and lifted an earlier freeze on the society’s bank accounts. The court required the CWSK board of directors to forward any gifts or donations to the board of trustees, and the board of trustees nominated two representatives to oversee the daily operations of CWSK.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
Trafficking in Persons
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The 2019 census recognized 45 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas. Competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast.
There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes over county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions.
In April a government task force attributed tribal clashes in Narok County to disputes over land ownership, sharing of local resources, and boundaries as well as incitement by local politicians. In May media reported at least 20 persons had died during the year due to clashes between Maasai and the Kipsigis, a subgroup of the Kalenjin tribe. In September, two Maasai clans signed a peace agreement to end a dispute that had lasted more than four decades.
Conflict continued among the various communities living in Eastern Mau Forest in Nakuru County due to long-running disputes over land, cattle rustling, and competition for resources. In July, eight persons died, 83 were injured, and more than 198 houses burned. More than 3,000 families were displaced, and the government imposed a five-day curfew. In September, one person died and 12 others were injured after renewed fighting.
Media reported at least 30 persons died in June and July during tribal clashes in Marsabit County along the border with Ethiopia. In September the National Cohesion and Integration Commission facilitated peace talks between leaders of the ethnic communities.
Ethnic differences also caused a number of discriminatory employment practices (see section 7.d.).
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which was interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted, and seven years for “attempting” said activity. The law also criminalizes acts of “gross indecency” between men, whether in public or in private, with five years’ imprisonment. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly persons suspected of prostitution, but released them shortly afterward. In August police arrested two men in Kakamega County for engaging in homosexual acts.
In 2016 LGBTI activists filed two petitions challenging the constitutionality of these penal codes. In May 2019 the High Court issued a ruling upholding the laws criminalizing homosexuality, citing insufficient evidence they violate LGBTI rights and claiming repealing the law would contradict the 2010 constitution that stipulates marriage is between a man and woman. The LGBTI community filed an appeal against this ruling. Leading up to the hearing of this case, and in its wake, the LGBTI community experienced increased ostracism and harassment.
LGBTI organizations reported police more frequently used public-order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTI individuals. NGOs reported police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTI individuals in custody.
Authorities permitted LGBTI advocacy organizations to register and conduct activities.
The 2010 constitution does not explicitly protect LGBTI persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals were widespread. In October an LGBTI rights organization reported an increase in conversion therapy and practices. It attributed this increase to the fact many LGBTI persons had returned to hostile community environments after losing their jobs during the pandemic. Some LGBTI groups also reported an increase in abuses cases against LGBTI persons during the pandemic.
In 2019 a government-appointed task force found only 10 percent of the intersex population completed tertiary education, only 5 percent recognized themselves as intersex due to lack of awareness, and the majority lacked birth certificates, which caused numerous problems, including inability to obtain a national identity card.
While the country grants refugee status to persons whose persecution is due to the individual’s sexual orientation, some LGBTI refugees continued to face stigma and discrimination. They were often compelled to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to protect themselves. National organizations working with LGBTI persons offered support to refugees who were LGBTI, including access to safety networks and specialized health facilities. In July, UNHCR released a statement calling for dialogue between refugee communities in Kakuma refugee camp following conflicting reports of violence, including reports by a small group of LGBTI refugees that they were the victims of harassment and violence. Police and local authorities increased security measures in response.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones, to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. For the union to be recognized as a bargaining agent, it must represent a simple majority of the employees in a firm eligible to join the union. This provision extends to public- and private-sector employees. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.
The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example, the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. A bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection typically referred disputes to mediation, fact finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labour Relations Court, a body of up to 12 judges that has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and that operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. The Employment and Labour Relations Court also has subregistries in Meru, Bungoma, Eldoret, Malindi, Machakos, and Garissa.
By law workers who provide essential services, interpreted as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” may not strike. Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
Strikes must concern terms of employment, and sympathy strikes are prohibited.
The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines and advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Labour Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities. Labor laws apply to all groups of workers. Penalties for labor law violations were not commensurate with those for similar offenses.
The government enforced the decisions of the Labour Relations Court inconsistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the Labour Relations Court’s decisions to a branch of the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Labour Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns regarding the long delays and lack of efficacy of the court.
The Labour Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed most cases directly without referral to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for conciliation. The court had a significant backlog.
The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was challenging, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step. The 2016 employment and labor relations (procedure) rules provide parties access to file pleadings directly in electronic form, pretrial procedures, and alternative dispute resolution. The rules also set a 30-day time limit for the court to submit a report on disagreements over collective bargaining agreements filed.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.
Airport workers at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport went on strike in March to protest potential restructuring of the airport. Six striking workers were injured during clashes with police, and 10 members of the Kenya Aviation Workers Union, including its secretary general, were arrested. After negotiation, the union agreed to end the strike in exchange for release of the arrested union officials and an agreement not to fire striking workers.
Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections, although domestic workers’ unions exist to protect their interests.
The government maintained labor attaches in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to regulate and coordinate contracts of migrant workers from the country and promote overseas job opportunities. The National Employment Authority manages a website that provides information to prospective migrant workers on the procedures of becoming a migrant worker in the Gulf. The Ministry of East African Community and Regional Development also helped domestic workers understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements. The government operationalized a 2017 bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia in January after revetting recruitment agencies in Riyadh. The government has additional bilateral agreements with Qatar and United Arab Emirates. The ministry has a directorate to regulate the conduct of labor agents for local migrant workers, including requiring the posting of a performance-guarantee bond for each worker.
The misuse of internships and other forms of transitional employment threatened the survival of trade unions, with employers often not hiring employees after an internship ends. State agencies increasingly outsourced jobs to the private sector, and in the private sector, casual workers were employed on short-term contracts.
This shift contributed to declining numbers in trade unions. NGOs and trade unionists reported replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the export-processing zones, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of three years.
The health sector experienced strikes precipitated by challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health workers, through their associations, issued strike notices citing failure by the government to meet their workplace demands, including adequate personal protective equipment while attending to COVID-19 patients. Counties like Nairobi and Trans Nzoia witnessed strikes by health workers. The health sector also witnessed industrial strikes by county government health professionals to protest delayed salary payments. The strikes occurred intermittently in various counties, since under the 2010 constitution, each county manages its own health system as part of the devolution of resources and services from the national government. According to the Council of Governors, all 47 counties faced delayed salaries for July due to government delay in disbursement of funds. The strikes affected delivery of services in counties such as Vihiga, Kisumu, and Nairobi, but negotiations averted some threatened strikes.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The law allowed, in some situations, up to 60 days of compulsory labor per year for the preservation of natural resources. The country made moderate advances to prevent or eliminate forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred, including forced child labor (see section 7.c.). Certain legal provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor, including for political offenses. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Forms of forced labor included debt bondage, trafficking of workers, and compulsion of persons, even family members, to work as domestic servants. Domestic workers from Uganda, herders from Ethiopia, and others from Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi were subjected to forced labor in the country; however, this trend was reportedly decreasing.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for work (other than apprenticeships) is 17, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The ministry published a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that constitute the worst forms of child labor. This list includes but is not limited to scavenging, carrying stones and rocks, metalwork, working with machinery, mining, and stone crushing. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices similar to slavery; child soldiering (see section 6); prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys. The International Labor Organization identified gaps in the law with regards to children working as cadets at sea.
The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which are legally categorized as hazardous work.
The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. The law does not prohibit child labor for children employed outside the scope of a contractual agreement. Child labor in the informal sector was widespread, but the government did not effectively monitor or control it.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection enforces child labor laws, but enforcement remained inconsistent. Supplementary programs, such as the International Labor Organization-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program, helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These programs identified children who were working illegally, removed them from hazardous work conditions, and referred them to appropriate service providers.
The government also worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions and the Federation of Kenyan Employers to eliminate child labor.
In support of child protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection operated a national online database system. The Child Protection Information Management System collects, aggregates, and reports on child protection data that informs policy decisions and budgeting for orphans and vulnerable children. The web-based system allows for an aggregate format of data to be made available to all the child protection stakeholders. The government had six child protection centers, which remove child laborers from the workplace, rehabilitate them, and provide counseling and life-skills training.
The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program for Results, a project that seeks to establish an effective national safety net program for poor and vulnerable households, and the Decent Work Country Program, a project designed to advance economic opportunities. Under these programs, the government pays households sheltering orphans or other vulnerable children to deter the children from dropping out of school and engaging in forced labor. For example, there were some cases reported in the western part of the country of girls dropping out of secondary school and engaging in sex work to afford basic supplies.
Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of khat. Children worked in mining, including in artisanal gold mines, small quarries, and sand mines. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, fetching and selling water, selling food, and forced begging. Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory child labor, such as in agricultural labor and domestic service, but also including commercial sexual exploitation.
Most of the trafficking of children within the country appeared related to domestic labor, with migrant children trafficked from rural to urban areas.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, and several other criteria, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several regulatory statutes explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; provide a legal framework for a requirement for the public and private sectors to reserve 5 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; provide tax relief and incentives for such persons and their organizations; and reserve 30 percent of public-procurement tenders for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, received slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but it was more frequently experienced by women. Women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment.
Many county governors appointed and employed disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county, bypassing minority groups. These problems were aggravated by the devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises (see section 1.d.).
In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group. A report detailing the ethnic composition of 417 senior civil service staff tabled at the Senate in September indicated that four tribes dominated high-level management positions in civil service. The dominant ethnic community had 29 percent of the 417 positions, while the second had 10 percent.
The law provides protection for persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, although many employers discriminated against persons with disabilities during hiring processes (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Due to societal discrimination, there were very limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism. There are no legal employment protections for LGBTI persons, who remained vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category. The minimum wage for all occupations exceeded the World Bank poverty rate.
The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers) and provides premium pay for overtime.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Authorities reported workweek and overtime violations. Workers in some enterprises, particularly in the export processing zones and those in road construction, claimed employers forced them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.
The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites but employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to conduct regular inspections. Fines generally were insufficient to deter violations.
The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees.
The law provides for labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. The government paid low salaries to labor inspectors and did not provide vehicles, fuel, or other resources, making it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and leaving them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption. The State Department for Labor faced a large number of retiring labor inspectors during the year, and there was no hiring of new inspectors.
The law provides social protections for workers employed in the formal and informal sectors. Informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions. All local employers, including those in the informal sector, are required to contribute to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund; these provide health insurance and pensions respectively.
Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.