The hands of some of the girls at the Tumaini Counselling Centre in Nairobi (Photo: The Equality Effect)
In a landmark legal decision, Kenya's High Court has ordered police to reinvestigate complaints of rape by 11 girls.
The case was brought forward by a children's charity called Ripples International on behalf of 240 victims of child rape.
The girls went to the head of the charity, Mercy Chidi Ogbonna, saying they were raped by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, police officers and neighbours, Reuters reports.
Chidi Ogbonna filed a petition on behalf of the girls, some of whom were as young as three years old.
The victims said police in Kenya demanded bribes to investigate rape, claimed the girls had consented to intercourse, and refused to look into cases unless there were witnesses.
One girl was locked in a cell by police after she reported that an officer had raped her, Chidi Ogbonna says.
In its decision, the court said police officers contributed to a culture of tolerance for sexual assault and sexual violence against girls.
"Perpetrators know they can commit crimes against innocent children without fear of being apprehended and prosecuted," the decision reads in part.
"The respondents showed disbelief, blamed the victims, humiliated them, yelled at and ignored them."
A lawyer for the girls, Fiona Sampson said that police who fail to enforce the law in cases of sexual violence against girls will now face arrest, fines, and imprisonment. She also believes the decision could have an effect beyond Kenya.
"It is a huge victory for the individual girls and for girls across Kenya and, I would say, Africa," she said.
Sampson is with The Equality Effect, an international legal rights network based in Toronto.
For more on the work it's doing in Kenya, check out this video, The Art of Equality, which includes interviews with Chidi Ogbonna and Sampson:
The Equality Effect is working on similar cases in Ghana and Malawi, and has been approached by groups in Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo asking for legal help.
According to a 2008/09 study, one in five women in Kenya are victims of sexual violence, and rape is rarely reported due to social stigmas and lack of faith in the justice system.
There are laws against sexual assault but Kenya's Gender Minister Naomi Shaban says they don't go far enough, the Daily Nation reports.
"Almost half (45 per cent) of women aged 15-49 have experienced one form of violence. And among children, a national survey of 2012 indicates that 32 per cent of females and 18 per cent of males have experienced sexual violence. Further, the national prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation stands at 27.1 per cent," she said in March at the Status of Women Commission at the UN.
She said the government is introducing new bills to try to change that, including the Marriage Bill, the Matrimonial Property Bill and the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Bill.
And it's initiating programs to help victims, including help lines, shelters, rescue homes, legal aid clinics, psychosocial support services, and police gender desks.
"In addition, male involvement groups have been formed to champion the rights of women. Of significance is a 'million fathers' campaign launched in July 2012, as part of the UN Secretary-General's Africa UNiTE Campaign to end violence against women and girls," Shaban said.
"The campaign's major aim is to engage men in their various roles as fathers, brothers, husbands and friends as an advocacy tool to end gender-based violence in society."