ICJ Kenya Webinar: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Poor and Vulnerable in Society
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed our way of life. Different measures have been put in place by the government to safeguard the interests of all persons during this difficult time. ICJ Kenya, during this webinar, will interrogate whether the measures put in place safeguard the rights of the poor and the vulnerable.
Countries across the world have taken measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including maintaining social distance, working from home and observing hygiene standard in tandem with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. In Kenya, the President directed schools to be closed and people to work from home where possible. Large social gatherings of people were suspended including in educational and religious institutions. Citizens who returned from foreign countries were required to mandatorily self-quarantine in facilities identified by the government. The government enforced a curfew from 7:00pm to 5:00am with a lockdown affecting the Nairobi Metropolitan, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi. More recently, the government enforced a lockdown in two popular towns; Eastleigh in Nairobi and Old Town in Mombasa following an increase in the number of infected persons from those areas.
The measures taken by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19, particularly the restriction of movement and stay at home directives are necessary to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. However they have posed serious socio-economic challenges for those in the informal sector, the poor, vulnerable and the marginalized. Data from the Institute of Economic Affairs indicates that the informal sector – which employs over 80% of Kenya’s working population – is usually associated with low and irregular pay. Thus, the majority of those employed in the sector are poor.
When the government encouraged people to stay and work from home, many people in informal employment did so reluctantly. The desperation owing to lack of daily income was witnessed in Kibra slum where thousands of residents caused a stampede while scrambling for food aid with complete disregard of the WHO guidelines. The government rolled out a Covid-19 emergency response fund to cushion the poor and marginalised from the effects of the pandemic, Streets families, who are among the groups exposed the most to the effects of the pandemic, and make up more than 20,000 of Kenya’s population according to the 2019 census,1 are yet to receive support from the fund.
As apart of bolstering social protection, the government directed an additional KSh10 billion to be set aside for the elderly, the poor and those disabled under the cash transfer programme that would see those targeted receive Kshs 2,500 monthly stipends. The programme works through the identification of those impoverished by local administrators who require phone numbers, a luxury that those living on the streets cannot afford.
Violation of human rights by law enforcement agents has also been witnessed during this period. On 4 May 2020 at least 5,000 people were rendered homeless in Kariobangi North. Forced evictions took place within the Sewerage Kariobangi Informal Settlement violating the right to housing, health and personal security and safety of several families in the midst of a pandemic exposing all the persons affected to contracting virus. Furthermore, In the enforcement of the lock down and the curfew there have been cases of police misconduct in various parts of the country notably so in the informal settlements. The police have taken it upon themselves to deal with instances of defiance violently; killing, maiming, beating citizens who are found in violation of the curfew.
Laws have also been enacted during the pandemic that unfairly target the poor and marginalized. The Public Health (Prevention, Control and Suppression of Covid-19) Rules, 2020 and the Public Health (Covid-19 Restriction of Movement of Persons and Related Measures) Rules, 2020 prescribe a penalty of a maximum fine of Kshs. 20,000 or three to six months imprisonment or even both for offences under the rules. The offences include violating curfew directions and failure to wear a mask in public. The poor and vulnerable have been targets of law enforcement officers who often demand bribes. These fines and regulations perpetuate the criminalisation and stigmatisation of poor and vulnerable people. Recently those presented before courts charged with violating the rules were released on a cash bail of Kshs. 5,000 or two-weeks community service.
Notably, colonial era criminal laws, particularly vagrancy offenses, have consistently been used by those in power as a measure of social control over marginalized groups in society.3 These laws have continued to be enforced during the Covid-19 pandemic. These offences criminalize actions such as hawking, being a nuisance, begging for alms, being idle and disorderly. The existence of the offences criminalizes poor, the homeless, persons with psychosocial illnesses, persons who inject drugs among other vulnerable groups. The enforcement of these offenses often shows no regard for persons’ rights to dignity, due process, fair trial, and freedom of movement. The National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ) and the Inspector General of Police Covid- 19 guidelines clearly state that persons may not be detained in the police stations for petty offences and if arrested persons may be given reasonable bond and bail terms.
These are just but a few of the instances whereby the poor and vulnerable have been neglected in the fight against COVID 19.
The objective of the webinar:
- To discuss the safeguards put in place by the government to protect the poor and vulnerable in society during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- To interrogate access to justice challenges for the poor and vulnerable in society.
- To access the scope and impact of social protection measures for poor and marginalised
Possible questions for discussion:
- Mutula Kilonzo Jnr.-Senator, Makueni County, Minority whip of the Senate and Member of the Human Rights and Justice Committee of the Senate
a. What are the measures in place to protect the poor and vulnerable at both the County level and the National Level.
- Hon. Lady Justice Ngenye– Judge of the High Court of Kenya and Chairperson of the National Criminal Justice Committee.
a. What steps has the Judiciary put in place to ensure access to justice in criminal cases for poor and vulnerable persons during Covid-19?
- Jacob Ondari- Deputy Director, Head of offences against the person department, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Member of the NCAJ Covid-19 taskforce.
a. What steps has the ODPP taken to ensure access to justice for every Kenyan amid Covid-19?
b. How is the ODPP responding to the needs of vulnerable justice seekers in the context of Covid-19?
- Macharia Njoroge- Project Officers, Users and Survivors of Psychiatry Kenya.
a. What assistance has the government offered persons with psychosocial disorders primarily those at risk during the Covid-19 period?
b. What the challenges are persons with psychosocial disorders facing during this Covid-19 period?
- Salma Hemed -Deputy Executive Director, HAKI Africa
a. Has the government given special consideration to the poor and the vulnerable in society?
b. Which recommendations would you make to the Covid-19 Emergency Taskforce in order to safe guard the rights of the poor and the vulnerable?