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Kenya is generally perceived as having made significant advances in recent years. In comparison with other sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya appears to be making progress in realizing economic and social rights and, significantly, has adopted strong protections for economic and social rights in its 2010 Constitution.


But economic gains in the past decade have been unevenly distributed and the country has faced a number of internal and external crises. While poverty levels have decreased, just under half of the population still lives below the poverty line. Further, sharp geographic and socio-economic disparities in levels of rights enjoyment suggest that the government's duty of equality and non-discrimination is not being met. For example, CESR’s work with national partners in Kenya has highlighted a number of areas where the gap between rich and poor is most conspicuous.

With a persistently high maternal mortality ratio (488 deaths per 100,000 live births) and less than half of women receiving care when giving birth, progress towards MDG Goal 5 on maternal health was slow in Kenya. In rural areas, in particular, long distances to health facilities, a lack of ambulances or other transportation, the cost or lack of health care professionals discourage mothers from seeking care. Rapid urbanization has created ‘high population density hotspots’ characterised by deplorable living standards, poor sanitary conditions and chronic poverty. Diseases are spread by a lack of toilet facilities; poor quality water used for drinking, cleaning and cooking; in some cases a total lack of water, which means many residents are unable to wash their hands before preparing and eating food; and poor drainage systems that clog with waste water, forming breeding sites for parasites. Unequal access to health services further contributes to lower health outcomes for Nairobi’s urban poor living in informal settlements.

CESR's work in Kenya aimed at strengthening national accountability of economic and social rights by supporting the National Human Rights Commission's monitoring efforts and partnering with civil society organizations undertaking research and advocacy on the right to health (RTH) in Nairobi’s informal settlements; with a particular focus on the right to water and sanitation (RTWS) as underlying determinants.

Making human rights accountability more graphic

CESR's factsheet on Kenya provides a graphic overview of selected elements of the human rights to education, health, food, water and housing. It seeks to highlight areas where government efforts to realize these rights may be inadequate. It was prepared in light of Kenya's appearance before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in November 2008.

The 41st Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

CESCR is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Part of CESCR's 41st session (November 3-21, 2008 in Geneva) focused on the consideration of the state reports submitted by Kenya. The discussion of this meeting can be found here. Based on the information provided in the factsheet, the Committee members asked the Kenyan government questions about:

  • Access to improved water sources in the Kibera slum;
  • Disparities in HIV prevalence among men and women across the provinces;
  • Child malnutrition and mortality rates;
  • Rising maternal and infant mortality rates;
  • Childhood diseases compared with vaccination rates.

In light of its consideration of Kenya's reports, and the subsequent discussion, the Committee adopted its concluding observations. These concluding observations list principal subjects of concern along with suggestions and recommendations to the state party. Some listed concerns that were presented in CESR's fact sheet include:

  •  "The Committee notes with concern that more than half of the population of the State party lives in extreme poverty, i.e. on less than US$1 a day, in particular persons living in rural and deprived urban areas..."
  • "The Committee is concerned about the high incidence of acute malnutrition in the North Eastern Province and of chronic malnutrition in all provinces of the State party, particularly affecting children."
  • "The Committee notes with concern that persons living in informal settlements, as well as in arid and semi-arid rural areas, are frequently deprived of affordable access to adequate water and sanitation..."
  • "The Committee is concerned about the high maternal, infant and under-five mortality rates, the lack of adequately equipped maternal health care facilities and skilled birth attendance, especially in the North Eastern and Coastal Provinces..."

Other NGO Reports

Other NGOs also contributed parallel reports on the Kenyan government's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.