Written by Anthony Aisi
Despite the promulgation of a law prohibiting child marriages in Kenya, the practice is still rampant in the country’s rural areas, a report released by Plan International has revealed.
The report which was released on Thursday in Nairobi says most parents in rural Kenya married off their girl children as young as 14 to escape to pangs of poverty and out of the fear and stigma associated with teen pregnancies and children born out of wedlock.
“Deeper analysis revealed that girls are either seen as an economic burden or valued as capital for their exchange value in terms of goods, money and livestock. It was also apparent that a combination of cultural, traditional and religious arguments was used to justify child marriages,” it says.
Kenya’s new Marriage Bill outlaws marriage below the age of 18. It states that no person shall get engaged or betrothed to a person under the age of eighteen years. The law imposes stiff penalties to anyone who gets engaged or betrothed to a person under the age of eighteen years.
“66 million girls of school going age globally are out of school. In Kenya, approximately 2 million girls of school going age are not in school. Only 47.6% of girls are enrolled into secondary schools compared to 52.4% of boys and the gender gap widens the higher you go up the education ladder. In reality, 1 in 5 girls of lower secondary school age is out of school.” Hon. lady justice Njoki Ndungu, chief guest during the biaag kenya launch.
She however asserted that she will spearhead active participation of the executive, the legislature and all other agencies and community structures who have the moral and principle responsibility of protecting all children including girls.
Plan says in the report entitled ‘Barriers to girls’ education, access and transition’ that most parents married off young girls to conceal pregnancy or avoid children born out of wedlock.
“Many parents marry off their daughters the moment they discover they are pregnant to protect their family status and name. The fear and stigma attached to premarital sex and bearing children outside marriage and associated family honour were cited as reasons for pushing girls into early marriage,” It states.
Plan’s report, based on recent research conducted across 8 counties, says most of the underage girls were being married off to men who are significant older than them. “Evidence from the research also point to trends that girls married before they turn 18 years are less educated, have more children and are married to men who are significantly older,” it says.
The research showed that child marriage was high among girls compared to males as 43 percent of the girls interviewed were married when they were below 18 years while 11.6 percent of males. This proportion is higher than national prevalence which stands at 34 percent for female and 1.4percent for males.
“Statistics show that Kilifi has the highest prevalence of child marriage with 47.4 per cent, followed by Homa Bay 38 percent, Kwale 37.9 percent, Bondo 29.5 percent and Tharaka 25.3 percent ...and this is a cause for alarm,” the report says.
It also shows that there was worrying trends on increasing number of girls engaged in child labour within their household and are putting many hours in filling up for their absentee parents some of whom are employed as house helps which may hinder them from attending school and may eventually drop out.
“Improving access to education for both girls and boys and eliminating gender gaps in education are important ways of ending the practice of child marriage,” says Samuel Musyoki, Acting Country Director for Plan International in Kenya.
He added that: “Lobbying and advocating for enforcement of laws of sex with under-age children and forced marriage can also be one of the approaches that can be employed to deal with these problems. “At a governmental level, individual ministries need to work together to coordinate efforts to tackle the social and economic barriers to girls’ education that cut across multiple sectors.
An assistant Chief of Nkondo location in Tharaka, said: “In this village there is a girl who was forced by circumstances to marry a “boda-boda” man after her father, who was the families sole bread winner, died living her and her younger siblings with her ailing mother. Despite her good academic performance in school, she had to first drop out of school at the primary level to “nurse” her sick mother and take care of her other siblings. When she could not continue attending school regularly due to her added responsibility she opted to marry as she believed that her husband would support her family although she still had the desire to pursue education.”
Under it’s Because I Am A Girl Campaign, Plan is calling for a minimum of 9 years schooling for girls and boys – which ensures a better transition to the critical stage of secondary education.