Child marriage rampant in Kenya due to poverty, gender inequality

Girl who were rescued from FGM and child marriages in Narok, during the graduation for an alternative rite of passage at Eselenkei Girls' Boarding Primary School, August 20, 2014. /KIPLANG’AT KIRUI
Girl who were rescued from FGM and child marriages in Narok, during the graduation for an alternative rite of passage at Eselenkei Girls' Boarding Primary School, August 20, 2014. /KIPLANG’AT KIRUI

It is 10am in Kinna, a small town in Isiolo county, and melodies from a nearby home can be heard.

Being a town in the north, the sun was hot from as early a 8am.

At Mzee Bakari's home, young women in hijabs sing and dance to

traditional wedding songs from a speaker in the main house as older women cook.

One of their own is getting married and with this comes a new family and wealth for the girl's people.

Farzana (real name withheld),16,

is the envy of her peers but she will become Rashid's fourth wife.

In this part of Kenya, parents marry off their children at a young age for prestige -

they will not get pregnant out of wedlock and while at their fathers' homes.

“I had never met him before this whole marriage thing but I am sure my parents know him better,” Farzana says of her arranged marriage.

She had to drop out of school and her father received

26 cows and 10 goats. The price would have been lower if she had not been a virgin.

“I will sell the livestock and use the money to educate the younger ones. I was unable to pay for their education because all my animals died during the drought,"

Mzee Bakari explains.

An estimated 23 per cent of girls in Kenya are married before their 18th birthdays, the main reasons being poverty, tradition and gender inequality.

Parents 'sell' their girls for money and UNICEF says those

from low-income families are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood, compared to children in wealthy families.

Women living in rural areas are twice as likely as likely their rural counterparts to be married under age 18.

Child marriage rates vary across regions - North Eastern and Coast have the highest prevalence rates while Central and Nairobi have the lowest.

This type of marriage is a human rights violation because it poses health risks and limits the girls' options.

Many complications come with early marriage; just last year, two girls died lives while giving birth.

These complications are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.

Where rape turns to marriage

In other cases, parents reach agreement with the families of men who sexually assault their daughters so that both families save face.

Wanja (name withheld) was walking home from school shortly after dusk when she was grabbed and taken into her father’s coffee plantation.

The culprit named Karanja raped her and when she reported this to her father, he informed the area chief who held the suspect for two days.

Meanwhile, the chief, Wanja’s father and Karanja’s family met and agreed that they get married since she was "no longer innocent". The girl's opinion did not count.

A survey listed early marriages as one of the reasons for the prevalence of such cases among Turkana, Pokot and Maasai pastoralist communities.

The report

dubbed 'Emerging Crimes: The Case of Kidnappings in Kenya Report, 2017' states this is common amongcommunities which still regard such practices.

More on this:

Kenya's new Marriage Bill outlaws marriage below the age of 18 and imposes stiff penalties on anyone who gets engaged or betrothed to an underage person.

In Kenya, approximately two million girls of school-going age are not in school, and only 47.6 per cent are enrolled in secondary school, compared to 52.4 per cent of boys.

Josephine Kulea, the founder of Samburu Girls Foundation, is one of several activists who rescue girls from early marriage.

Kulea was lucky enough to go to school unlike many girls in her Samburu community. She grew up in a culture that promotes child marriage, beading and female genital mutilation so she ran away to change her fate.

Her foundation in Samburu rescues girls from the North where communities are largely pastoralist as they live in arid and semi-arid parts.

The foundation helps girls whose parents oppose child marriage and those who have already been 'sold' off.

President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the marriage Bill in 2014.

According to the Act, marriage is the voluntary union of a man and a woman whether in a monogamous or polygamous union registered under the Act.

It states that parties to a marriage have equal rights and obligations at the time of marriage, during the marriage and at the dissolution of the marriage. All marriages registered under the Act have the same legal status.

Despite health concerns and laws against child marriage, the practice remains widespread.

According to UNFPA, one in every three girls in developing countries is married before attaining age 18, and one in nine is married before turning 15.

If nothing is done to change this trend, an estimated 70 million girls will be married as children over the next five years. This translates to tens of thousands of girls every day.