Hundreds of Kenyan girls, including some as young as three years old, filed a petition in the High Court on Thursday to try to force the police to investigate and prosecute rape cases they say have been ignored.
The group of more than 240 girls accuse police of demanding bribes to investigate rape, refusing to record rapes unless the victims produced witnesses, and claiming victims had consented.
One in five women and girls are victims of sexual violence in Kenya, according to a 2008/9 government survey. Rape is rarely reported due to stigma and a lack of faith in the police and the criminal justice system, although Kenya has strong legislation to protect children from sexual assault.
"Today is very significant," said Mercy Chidi, one of the petitioners who runs Tumaini Girls Rescue Centre in Meru, some 240 km (150 miles) north-east of the capital Nairobi.
"It is the first time in Kenya where we are holding the police accountable for failing to protect the girls, failing to enforce the laws that exist," she said.
Chidi told Reuters that one of the girls she rescued was locked in police cells and threatened by male officers after reporting that one of their colleagues had raped her.
In another case, Chidi said the police refused to investigate allegations of incest, saying they wanted to wait until the girl gave birth to test the baby's DNA.
One of the petitioners, a nine-year-old who declined to give her name, told Reuters at the Tumaini center that she was gang raped by three men who work in a shop near her home.
She has been living in the rescue center for nine months because the men are threatening her family.
"One held my arms. The other grabbed my legs so I fell down. The other put his thing for peeing inside me," she said in a sing-song voice, hiding her face in her hands.
"They told me if I told anyone they would kill me," she whispered.
Fiona Sampson of The Equality Effect, a Toronto-based partner in the case, said she hoped that the case would change the way the police deal with rape.
"The fact that the perpetrators are not held accountable right now is really why there is this ongoing epidemic of rape of young girls."
Chidi said her lawyer would now serve the police commissioner with the petition, and await his response to it, at which stage the court would decide what the next step would be.
Neither the main spokesman for Kenya Police nor his deputy were available to comment on the petition.