At 19, Farhiya Hussein is already a divorced mother of two.
She lives with her mother in Minjila, Tana River County, where she hawks camel milk to take care of her children’s needs.
Ms Hussein was married at 14 years, two years after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM).
She was the second wife of her 43-year-old husband, a friend of her father, who paid 15 cows and several goats for her dowry.
“I had my first child a year later, though the first wife was not happy with me being in the family. She felt threatened but I had no choice,” she calmly says.
Her mother came to help her with the baby as the first wife was not supportive.
She says her husband, a livestock broker, was always absent and would show up once every three months.
His absence made life for the young Hussein so difficult that she contemplated going back to her parents.
“My co-wife was 24 years old with three children, and she always blamed me for stealing love from her and making them fight, which I did not understand,” she says.
The co-wife, she says, would deny her food and at times pour water on the cooking place after preparing meals for her children.
All this was in a bid to frustrate her out of the marriage.
Efforts to negotiate peace through her relatives did not bear fruit and the husband had to be summoned by elders.
The summoning made the situation worse, as the man and his first wife started arguing and engaging in physical fights.
“He would drag and beat her and I never felt good about it. I knew the same awaited me in future, so I asked my husband to instead divorce me, thinking it would help,” she says.
Instead, her husband got angry but rather than divorcing her, he divorced the first wife and immediately sent her packing.
Ms Hussein was left alone in the homestead, and her cousin, then 15, came to help with the chores.
Her second-born child came with a lot of challenges as the midwife mishandled the birth, leaving her with a medical condition that she later learned was a fistula.
“I started wearing diapers because I would pass urine unexpectedly. I had a bad odour and my husband started distancing himself from me,” she says.
She knew the marriage was on the rocks, and it was only a matter of time before her husband would find another woman.
In October 2020, her cousin who was helping with household chores suddenly decided to leave.
Two weeks later, Ms Hussein was informed that her husband had taken the cousin as a wife in a ceremony in Garsen.
“I did not believe it. That was unexpected and unacceptable. He should have married someone else but not my cousin,” she says.
The man knew that there would be chaos if he allowed them to live together, so he rented his new wife a house in Hola.
He abandoned Ms Hussein and would only visit to leave money for food to her mother, who was helping around the house.
After staying away for a while, he sent Ms Hussein a divorce letter, through her younger brother, whom he met at the Garsen livestock market.
“He did not even have the guts to face me with that divorce. That hurt me a lot, but I accepted my fate,” she says.
Ms Hussein has since recovered from fistula, courtesy of a free operation at Kenyatta National Hospital.
She has picked up her pieces and moved on.
Nineteen-year-old Hanna Abubakar, on the other hand, enjoyed her marriage for only one year before her 52-year-old husband married two more wives almost her age.
“I was 15 years old when he married me. But when I was eight months pregnant with our son, he suddenly married another girl, who was 14 years old,” she says.
She would later learn that the man had lost two wives and divorced one in his life that far.
As a result, most parents feared giving their daughter to him for marriage.
“I met him while living with my aunt after my parents passed on.
Then he spoilt my aunt and me with money, because he had it in plenty,” she says.
In Shirikisho village, they knew him as a man who used his financial muscle to get what he wanted, a shrewd rich man.
As a result, he went hunting for his wives away from the village and made sure they lived apart.
In less than three years of their marriage, he had married two more girls, aged 14 and 15, totalling three wives.
He married his third wife when the second was six months pregnant.
But in May 2021, Ms Abubakar had a miscarriage after the man beat her up for questioning his closeness with her aunt.
“I picked up his phone when he was out and learned from their conversations that he was having an affair with my aunt. When I asked him about it, he turned violent,” she says.
Ms Abubakar has since moved to Garsen, where she operates a kiosk with her cousin, also a divorcee. That is how they earn a living and support their children.
At their age, their chances of getting married again by a man in their community are close to none.
Under Orma and Somali traditions, marriage to a divorced woman brings shame and no dowry is paid for such a woman.
“Once a woman is divorced, she is on her own. So she can only inform her kinsmen that she is getting married but we are not entitled to her choice of man and neither do we care where she gets married,” says elder Mohammed Godana.
A divorced woman cannot be the first wife in any home either, even if she is married before the virgin wife.
She remains a mother to the children but cannot oversee the marriage ceremonies of her children where there is another woman married while a virgin.
The woman married with her virginity assumes the position of the child’s mother and takes over all motherly responsibilities.
This has prompted many divorced women from their respective communities to settle for men from other communities, so as to run away from the shame.
“Nobody cares where she goes. She is her own boss and nobody can dictate life for her,” Mr Godana says.
Many cases of divorces at a young age have been witnessed in pastoralist communities, subjecting youthful women to stigma.