• Muslims for Human Rights said cultural beliefs and poverty put young girls in Kilifi and Tana River counties in great danger.
• The organisation has been conducting legal aid clinics in Mombasa, Kilifi and Tana River counties.
Sexual and gender-based violence is rampant in Tana River but many cases are not prosecuted because residents are unaware of how to seek redress, rights activists have said.
Muslims for Human Rights said cultural beliefs and poverty put young girls in Kilifi and Tana River counties in great danger.
The organisation has been conducting legal aid clinics in Mombasa, Kilifi and Tana River counties.
The clinics, coordinated by rapid response officer Francis Auma, are part of celebrations to mark 10 years of the 2010 Constitution.
Muhuri legal officer Dennis Chinzi said they heard from PTA teacher at a school in Garsen of how a Standard 6 pupil was married off to a man four times her age.
“The man was about 52 years old and took away the girl, who was about 12 years old and married her,” Chinzi said.
He said the teacher tried following up on the matter with the girl’s grandfather who was living with the girl.
The grandfather said there is nothing he could do about it because the decision had been made, agreement sealed and dowry paid. The dowry was four cows.
“The PTA teacher, who hails from Nyanza region, later learnt that in the girl’s culture, once a girl is married, she can never go back to her home. She must stay with her husband no matter what,” said Chinzi.
It is something like a trap, he said.
In Garsen, the only way to get legal assistance is to travel to Malindi in Kilifi county, at least 100km away to get an advocate.
“The time and cost implications put the residents off and they resort to Kangaroo courts to try and settle disputes. In most cases, these Kangaroo courts are ineffective,” Chinzi said.
Another factor that prevents legal redress in Tana River is entrenched community dispute resolution mechanisms.
These mechanisms discourage taking a member of one’s clan to court or reporting them to the police.
“If a perpetrator of wrong against another is from the same clan as the victim, the case will never be reported to administrative authorities. It will be solved at the clan level with elders called to settle the matter,” Chinzi said.
“If the people who did research on early marriages and SGBV cases in Kilifi came to Tana River, the numbers there would have dwarfed those in Kilifi or any other counties,” Chinzi noted.
The Muhuri legal officer said most cases in Tana River go undefended.
“This forces most of the victims to admit to crimes they did not commit,” Chinzi said.
In another case, Rabai Dunal Elena was beheaded about three months ago in Garsen.
One of the suspects in the murder was a boda boda rider who is believed to be one of the last people to see her alive. The rider was arrested along with two others.
However, due to lack of evidence, they were released and the matter has for the last two months gone silent.
Chinzi said the marginalization of Tana River county is a big blow to their rights.
“Muhuri will conduct more legal aid sessions there so that at least people get to know what channels to follow when aggrieved,” Chinzi said.