Child marriages on the rise thanks to Covid-19

'Brenda Atieno' with her child at her grandmother's home in Siaya County. Her aunt married her off at the age of 13. Cases of child marriages are on the rise amid Covid-19 pandemic, with six confirmed cases in Kuria, Migori County.  PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The closure of schools, in March to contain the spread of Covid-19 brought fear of an upsurge in child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The concern from non-governmental organisations and gender equality activists could have come to pass following reports of child marriages in parts of the country.

AfricaGender Indaba an organisation that pushes for gender equality and transformation in Africa says there are six confirmed cases of child marriages in Kuria, Migori County.

The organisation notes some communities in Kenya are taking advantage of Covid-19 and the curfew imposed by the government to subject girls to child marriage, FGM and other abuses.

Last week, Dr Josphine Kulea the Founder and Executive Director Samburu Girls Foundation also raised the red flag over possible child marriages in the county.


The county only has two children officers said Dr Kulea, making it difficult to contain child marriages and FGM. She said they have engaged morans, who have been instrumental in rescuing girls under threat.

“We need more coordinated efforts between partners and stakeholders going forward in order to win this war,” she said.

Malkia Jeddy an anti-FGM and menstrual hygiene advocate in the county says they have reported cases of child marriages in Kajiado.

He counterpart Selina Nkoile the founder  of Nashipai Maasai Community Projects in Kajiado County notes that lack of a police post in Mosiro makes it difficult to address children related cases in the area.

She says the closing of safe houses in the area by the government due to Covid-19 had put the girls at higher risks, and that her organisation is working with local administration and Nyumba Kumi initiatives to ensure girls are safe.

“We have been able to reconcile most of the children with their families but we had to settle others with their relatives since we did not have any option,” she says.

Last week, the Anti-FGM Board confirmed that three girls were rescued from forced marriages in Samburu County.

“We have only received confirmation of three cases of girls who were at risk of child marriage,” the board tweeted.

Anti-FGM Board Chief Executive Bernadette Loloju told Nation Gender Desk the government is on high alert over possible cases of child marriages and FGM during this Covid-19 period.

Ms Loloju said they are working closely with the chiefs, police, elders and religious leaders in hot spot areas to ensure no such cases occur.

The Ministry of Public Service and Gender towards the end of March, launched a toll free gender-based violence (GBV) helpline 1195 that women and girls can use to call for help during this Covid-19 period.

Public Service and Gender Cabinet Secretary Prof Margret Kobia said the government remains alive to the fact that women and girls are relatively at higher risk of suffering GBV and other abuses including child marriage during this period.


According to United Nations Population Fund (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.

In 2018, UNFPA reached more than 8,000 girls in Kenya with services to prevent and address child marriage, and more than 12,000 girls with protection or care services related to FGM.

According to a report by United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) dubbed Girls not Brides about  23 per cent of Kenyan girls are married before their 18th birthday and  four per cent are married before the age of 15.

Unicef says Kenya has the 20th highest absolute number of child brides in the world at 527,000. Migori and Tana River are named as some of the counties in the country where girls marry at a very young age.

 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 with North Eastern and Coastal regions having the highest prevalence rates while Central and Nairobi have the lowest. 

In 2017 Kenya became the 19th country to launch the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.

 The country is among 20 which have committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.