What you need to know:
- Here, the local communities have refused to abandon the archaic cultural practices.
- They withdraw their daughters from school, subjecting them to female circumcision and marrying them off to get dowry.
- Sensitisation against the vice is being conducted in multi-national tea estates in the region.
At the crack of dawn, Doreen (not her real name) wakes up, prepares breakfast for her family, dashes to the bathroom to shower before dressing up ready to start her journey to a day secondary school some two kilometres away.
The teenage wife leaves her husband, a shopkeeper, at home as she braves the Monday morning chill, joining a file of other students trekking to school in Chebunyo, Chepalungu Constituency, in Bomet County.
Apart from her husband, parents, fellow students and teachers who are in the know, there is nothing to betray the fact that she is no ordinary Form Two student.
Hardly 16 years of age, she is one of the teenagers who have been married off, then enrolled in school in a bid to beat the law protecting children from early marriage and sexual exploitation.
It is a similar case for 15-year-old Jackline (not her real name) who underwent circumcision in November last year and was married off in December to a boda-boda rider in Narok.
During the day, these girls are students while, in the evening and on weekends, they play their roles as wives in a new trend that has crept into parts of the South Rift counties of Kericho, Bomet and Narok.
Here, the local communities have failed to abandon the archaic cultural practices of withdrawing their daughters from school, subjecting them to female circumcision, and marrying them off to get bride price.
"Due to the pressure the administration and various government agencies have placed on the society with implementation of the Children's Act, the offenders have devised new methods to circumvent the law, which include marrying off young girls and enrolling them in school," said Bomet County Commissioner Geoffrey Omoding.
"We have arrested several of the offenders after getting intelligence reports of the marriages. Our position is that both parents of the newly-married girls, along with the husbands of the teenagers, must be arrested and charged," he said.
CRACKDOWN ON OFFENDERS
He said chiefs and their assistants had been directed to closely work with education officers, teachers, police, Nyumba Kumi committee members, elders and the clergy in cracking down on the offenders.
Most of the offenders, it has emerged, are boda-boda riders, traders and farmers, many of whom dropped out of school for various reasons.
Narok branch Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) secretary Charles Ng'eno said special attention should be given to education of girls in the region as there is a high dropout rate related to outdated cultural practices.
"Apart from enforcing the Children's Act, there is a need to sensitise members of the local communities on the benefits of educating their children, the health hazards posed to girls by female genital mutilation, early marriages and pregnancies which could lead to death," said Mr Ng'eno.
Bomet County Director of Gender and Social Services Rose Chepkorir said the region is replete with cases of defilement and rape.
"The attack against girls by sex pests has led to unplanned pregnancies and the rampant spread of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/Aids," said Ms Chepkorir.
Ms Chepkorir said the county government has put in place measures to sensitise residents on children's rights in a bid to turn the tide. She said this is starting to bear fruit.
Narok Deputy Governor Chepkirui Aruasa said girls in the region require mentoring by women leaders in all professions and sectors of the economy.
"Alternative rites of passage from childhood to womanhood are slowly but surely taking root among the local community members in what has seen a rise in the number of girls transiting from primary to secondary schools, universities and middle level colleges," said Ms Aruasa.
Kericho Chief Officer for Youth and Sports Anthony Koskei said sensitisation against the vice is being conducted in multi-national tea estates in the region.
"Cases of early marriage have in the past been reported in multi-national tea estates straddling Kericho and Bomet but have swiftly been dealt with in collaboration with various arms of government," said Mr Koskei
Mr Koskei said that in a bid to ensure women who had dropped out of school early for various reasons get a source of livelihood, Governor Paul Chepkwony has initiated an athletics programme.
"The governor's women athletes empowerment programme is biased in favour of girls and women within the ages of 15 to 39 years, be they parents or not. They may have dropped out of school for reasons beyond their control, including early marriages and unplanned pregnancies. This will give them a new lease of life to pursue their dreams," said Mr Koskei.