Sexual violence legislation in sub-Saharan Africa: the need for strengthened medico-legal linkages

Reprod Health Matters. 2009 Nov;17(34):10-9. doi: 10.1016/S0968-8080(09)34485-7.


Six sub-Saharan African countries currently have laws on sexual violence, including Kenya, and eight others have provisions on sexual violence in other legislation. Effective legislation requires functioning medico-legal linkages to enable both justice to be done in cases of sexual violence and the provision of health services for survivors of sexual violence. The health sector also needs to provide post-rape care services and collect and deliver evidence to the criminal justice system. This paper reviews existing data on sexual violence in sub-Saharan Africa, and summarises the content of sexual violence legislation in the region and the strengths and weaknesses of existing medico-legal linkages, using Kenya as a case study. Many sub-Saharan African countries do not yet have comprehensive post-rape care services, nor substantial co-ordination between HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, the legal and judicial systems, and sexual violence legislation. These need to be integrated by cross-referrals, using standardised referral guidelines and pathways, treatment protocols, and medico-legal procedures. Common training approaches and harmonised information across sectors, and common indicators, would facilitate government accountability. Joint and collaborative planning and working at country level, through sharing of information and data between the different systems remain key to achieving this.

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Interinstitutional Relations
  • Sex Offenses / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Women's Health