What you need to know:
- Her dream of attaining the highest level of education and getting a better job to unshackle her family from the yoke of poverty hit a snag.
- She and her son would be beaten up and at some point she contemplated suicide; she endured until it was no longer possible.
- While aged one-year-and-four-months, her son was poisoned by one of the co-wives but was luckily saved after he was rushed to hospital.
Having lost her mother to tuberculosis while in Class Four at Al-Huda Primary School in Moyale, Marsabit County, and months later her father in a road accident, Farhia Abdullahi*, now aged 24, and her five siblings faced a bleak future.
One of her aunts, who lived several kilometres from their home, took her in and promised to support her education. But unknown to her, she would be turned into a house help.
The other siblings were also taken in by some of their relatives.
“I had no option but to persevere. I did all the donkey work in the house while my cousins stayed idle. I used to even cook but was not getting enough food and slept on an empty stomach most of the time. What would I have done?” she poses.
Her life took a turn for the worse three years later in 2014 when the aunt married her off to a 50-year-old man, who already had three wives. She was 16 and in Standard Seven.
“It was my worst day. She (aunt) told me I had no other option and even threatened to throw me out of her house if I objected. I had never seen the old man before,” Ms Farhia painfully remembers how she endured the harmful custom.
Her dream of attaining the highest level of education and getting a better job to unshackle her family from the yoke of poverty hit a snag.
Girls in pastoral communities are at high risk of being married off at a young age and never setting foot in school because of the notion that they would leave their parents’ home once married. And so most parents focus their resources on educating boys.
At least 12 million girls below 18 years are married every year globally, with 100 million at risk of becoming child brides by 2030, according to Unicef.
Reports indicate that girls married off while young are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to stay in school.
Having no other place to seek asylum, Farhia obliged and though worried about what lurked ahead, she remained hopeful.
While she thought the other three wives would welcome her to the family wholeheartedly, they turned violent on her, making her stay at the home unbearable.
“They (co-wives) ganged up against me and started framing me for mistakes I did not do possibly to have me ejected from the house. The husband then started beating me up. I have marks all over my body from the beatings I got and have several times been hospitalised,” Farhia says.
The trend continued even when she became pregnant, prompting her to contemplate suicide.
“I, on several occasions, thought of killing myself but an inner thought kept telling me to hold on… I felt I was not wanted but having carried his child, I chose to stay,” Farhia recently told Nation.Africa.
Barely a year after giving birth to a boy, she got pregnant again and was hopeful things would change for the better. She was mistaken. Things got uglier.
While aged one-year-and-four-months, her son was poisoned by one of the co-wives but was luckily saved after he was rushed to hospital.
The husband turned into a beast over time, extended the violence to her son and used to descend on “him with blows and kicks over nothing”. Sometimes the son would bleed from the nose and ears, she said.
The woman on several occasions fled but would be traced and returned, only to face the wrath of the husband. When she was due to deliver her second child, Farhia vanished from the home to escape unending violence. She proceeded to a friend’s home in Sololo, about 150 kilometres away towards Marsabit town.
Lacking money to go to hospital, she delivered at the female friend’s home but was later traced and taken back to her husband.
Two years and several months into the marriage and while her second-born, a girl, was six-month-old, she escaped to Isiolo, about 600 kilometres away, where another aunt, Malkabo Aliow, lived in what she says was the onset of her peace of mind.
“I left very early in the morning with my six-month-old daughter and the firstborn son. I did not even carry clothes so as not to raise suspicion. I could not have persevered any longer. They would have killed me,” she said, adding that she was assisted by a Good Samaritan who offered her a lift to Marsabit town and another to Isiolo town.
She would months later discover that her son had difficulties hearing, which medics said were occasioned by injuries inflicted by blunt objects.
“It pained me to learn that he was struggling to hear, forcing me to shout whenever I am talking to him. He possibly got injured by the father,” the mother of two said.
Asked why she did not report the aunt who married her off, Farhia said she obliged out of desperation.
The violent husband died a year after she fled the home five years ago. She is glad to have walked out of that marriage.
“You would rather be a single mother but have peace than stay in a violent marriage,” Farhia advises.
Her son and daughter are aged seven and five respectively. The boy is a Grade One pupil at Wabera Primary School in Isiolo town.
Appeals for support
Farhia yearns to undertake a technical course to get skills that would guarantee her employment so that she can provide for her family. She has appealed for help.
“Money is the only challenge. I would not mind taking a course to help me get employed or to employ myself. I cannot educate my children as I lack income,” she says.
The mother warns women against staying in abusive marriages. She wants them to be mindful of their peace and be bold enough to walk out, especially if their frosty relationship, is beyond repair.
The Global Programme to End Child Marriage launched by Unicef and UNFPA in 2016 to empower young girls at risk of marriage has so far reached 12 million adolescent girls globally, with life skills training and school attendance support.
GBV activist Rosaline Gollo calls for joint efforts in dealing with harmful practices that deny girls the opportunity to study and achieve their dreams and make their own free and informed decisions.
“We need to undertake thorough sensitisation to the need for men and women to embrace peace and shun violence,” Ms Gollo says, lamenting lengthy referral pathways for GBV victims.
She says the reporting process should be made easy and victims granted security.