What you need to know:
- Report by Plan International indicates that Kenya has one of the highest child marriage prevalence in the world, estimated at 25 to 30 per cent.
- Migori County among regions where early marriages are rampant, especially among the Kuria community.
- Numerous interventions have seen at least 200 girls rescued from the retrogressive practice in the past four months.
- It is a difficult time for Kuria girls, especially those who want to further their education. Most of them are seeking refuge in the rescue centres.
- Parents and relatives forcing them into the outlawed act for monetary gains.
Recent incidents in Nyanza region bring to the fore an emerging social concern about the safety of children at home after schools were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It threatens to reverse gains made in the protection of children in Kenya.
Recently, a pastor was arrested while officiating a marriage between his Standard Seven daughter and a 23-year-old in Kuria West Sub-county, Migori County.
Infuriated locals who got wind of the happenings at a local church in Motemorabu village, alerted authorities who arrested the pair and their parents.
Nation established that the bridegroom’s parents had paid dowry.
Kuria West Sub-county children’s officer Mr John Omondi said the parents had secretly camped at the bridegroom’s home after settling all the requirements.
“We intercepted the wedding midway and together with the police and local administration, arrested the parents and the young couple. They will be arraigned in Kehancha court,” Mr Omondi told Nation.
In neighbouring Migori, a 13-year-old girl was, a week ago, picked by children’s officers from her home and moved to a children’s rescue centre following a series of incidents that exposed her to child abuse.
The Class Five pupil gave birth in June following a pregnancy that reportedly resulted from a defilement. Two weeks later, she was married to a different man in Kibweri in Gwasi East location.
A week ago, Homa Bay County Coordinator for Children Affairs and Social Services Peter Kutere and the chief executive officer at Journalists for Human Rights William Khamboko accompanied other government officials to the girl’s home, where she was rescued and taken to a safe house.
Attempts to arrest the suspected defiler were futile.
The rise in teen pregnancies after schools were closed in March, has seen more girls exposed to early marriages. Authorities are concerned, and it is for a good reason.
Migori County is among regions where the situation is grave, especially among the Kuria community the where practice is prevalent.
Numerous interventions have seen at least 200 girls rescued from the retrogressive practice in the past four months, authorities reveal.
"It is a difficult time for Kuria girls, especially those who want to further their education. Most of them are seeking refuge in the rescue centres.”
“It is unfortunate their parents and relatives are the ones forcing them into the outlawed act," Mr Tobias Ogola, the director at the Universal Relief Foundation says.
"So far, our organisation has received more than 50 girls who have run away. Every day, we keep receiving more girls,” he states.
In another incident, which occurred before schools were closed, a 12-year-old was defiled and impregnated by a neighbour who promised to marry her.
The said man even promised to send cows to the family after she delivered. The community’s custom says it is taboo to pay dowry to a pregnant wife.
Last week, the minor developed complications while delivering at a local facility in Kuria West. She was taken for Caesarean Section but died shortly after delivering her baby.
Local MCA Susan Mohabe, says she plans to pursue the matter after it emerged that parents of the deceased had already accepted five cows as bride price.
The man fled to Tanzania after learning of his impending arrest.
The matter was arbitrated by the ritungi (local clan elders) who instructed the man to pay five cows ahead of the burial.
These recent incidences point to numerous cases of teenage girls being subjected to early marriages among the Kuria where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is prevalent.
It is practiced as a rite of passage and a precursor to early marriages.
Despite laws criminalizing the practice, the community has designed ways to carry out the cut to avoid arrests.
The closure of schools has aggravated the situation with parents reportedly marrying off girls as young as 12 years.
So far, at least 200 girls in Migori have been rescued from forced marriages and currently live in rescue centres set by non-governmental organisations in the region, says Mr Omondi.
Many of the girls are from Ntimaru, Gwitembe, Kegonga, Koromangucha and Masangora.
According to Mr Julius Maroa, the manager of Komotobo Rescue Centre, the number of girls seeking refuge has risen since schools closed over Covid-19.
Anti-FGM campaigners have also stepped up efforts to sensitise residents against the cut.
Mabera Sub-county Deputy Commissioner Timothy Tirop, notes that most of the affected girls are hard to trace as they are married off to relatives in neighbouring Tanzania.
A 2018 baseline survey conducted by Unicef on child marriages, teenage pregnancy and FGM revealed that 35 per cent of girls from marginalised communities were getting married at a tender age.
The survey revealed that some common reasons for practicing child marriage as personal choice of the affected girls themselves, better bride prices, social pressures and retrogressive cultural practices.
A report by Plan International further indicates that Kenya has one of the highest child marriage prevalence in the world, estimated at 25 to 30 per cent.
In Kakamega County, Bishop Rashid Nanjira of the Christian Warrior Prayer ministries has launched a campaign against teenage pregnancies and early marriages.
“Most girls of between 12 and 17 years have been impregnated in the area mostly by boda boda riders,” he states.
According to Rev Nanjira, many parents opt to marry off their daughters for monetary gains.
He adds that parents agree to out-of-court settlement, encouraging a miscarriage of justice. He now wants Parliament to enact prohibitive laws that will deal with the offenders.
According to the clergy, most girls are lured into sex by men who provide them with basic necessities such as sanitary pads and soap because their parents cannot afford.
“We must come together as stakeholders to end this vice because the pregnancies become a burden to the poor families who are forced to provide for the new-born because the girls are either abandoned after conceiving or ostracized and disowned by the person responsible for the pregnancy,” he states.
Bishop Nanjira has teamed up with other pastors to offer sex education to the residents.