My husband expected me to be a woman, but I was a child

Mariam Badesa (not her real name) was married to Hassan Bule, a 54-year-old man, as a second wife at the age of 14. It has been a traumatising marriage.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor I Nation

What you need to know:

  • At the age of 14, 'Mariam Badesa' got married to Hassan Bule, a 54-year-old man, as a second wife.
  • Her mother assured her that marriage was good and she would have a lot of fun in it.
  • Six months into the marriage, her husband took another wife, a teenager, two years older than her, and went missing for almost a year.

Their peers’ colourful weddings may have given them the impression that marriage is a bed of roses. Years into their unions, however, the teenagers from Tana River are in a dark dome, misery and pain they wish they could walk away from. They are mothers.

The chains that bind them are, however, too strong and the mess too big. They remain slaves to an unclear destiny.

At the age of 14, Mariam Badesa (not her real name) got married to Hassan Bule, a 54-year-old man, as a second wife.

It was all joy at the beginning.

A colourful wedding, guests, presents, songs, food and parties marked the eventful day.

It was more than what her sister received during her wedding, married at almost the same age a year earlier.

She imagined a beautiful future, a life without struggles, just staying at home, cooking for her husband as he fed her and the children.

No choice

"I had just received my KCPE results. My parents were not stable enough to educate me through high school, so they proposed marriage," she says.

Badesa relished weddings and all that came with them, but did not want marriage then. And when she was informed that she would be getting married at an early age, she had no choice.

The alternative would have been for her to stay in the village herding goats in the wilderness, exposing her to rape, which would lead to her becoming too disgraced for marriage.

"I did not have a choice. When the man who was meant to be my husband came, he did not talk to me, he only looked at me and left to talk with the elders, including my father," she recounts.

Her mother assured her that marriage was good and she would have a lot of fun in it. But her sister warned her, over the phone, against the idea.

Hostility

At the end of the day, Badesa's mother's assurance won.

From what her mother told her, she imagined bliss in the marriage because the man, as she was told, was wealthy.

Four years into marriage, all she has fought from the first day are storms and tides of hostility.

She is the second wife of four, with two children that she has to fend for all by herself, a struggle she never thought would come.

"My husband expected me to be like other women when he married me, but I was a child. I did not know what was expected of me as a woman. He beat me on the third day of our marriage," she recounts.

Six months later, she was married and pregnant. Her husband took another wife, a teenager, two years older than her, and went missing for almost a year.

She was left at the mercy of villagers, her mother and a co-wife who was mature enough to understand her predicament.

Co-wife

"I was left hungry. If it were not for my co-wife, who was motherly to me, I would have starved to death because the man went on a marrying spree," she says.

She has learned that in the bed of roses, sharp thorns lie hidden, and their pricks are a pain to endure.

She wakes up to fetch food for her children as her husband has been elusive, and is only seen once every three months.

Badesa still hopes she can grow beyond the trauma and depression.

Mwanahamisi Omar, on the other hand, has been through a similar challenge and has moved to her mother-in-law's home to survive the hardships.

"I became pregnant when I was in Grade Seven. My father did not want to hear any excuse. He dragged me to my boyfriend's home and left me there. He warned me never to return home unless for a short visit," she recounts.

As much as she wished to continue with her education after delivery, she had no one to support her.

Three years into the marriage, she has suffered domestic violence at the hands of the man who wants her gone.

She has starved alongside her two children and even contemplated suicide.

Amid tears

"I got to a point where I wanted to poison my children and take my life because the suffering was too much. I never imagined this is the same man who professed love to me at one time," she says amid tears.

It is a burden she wishes she can offload and bury, but every sign of hope looks bleak.

The two teenagers are just a few of the victims who were married off young, and whose lives have become a puzzle too impossible to understand.

Many were married off after they became pregnant, while others were victims of rape and poverty.

Poverty and defilement are the major causes of such marriages, says Ralia Hassan, county chairperson of the Gender Technical Working Group.

"Every year, not less than 70 girls become pregnant at home, defiled. Those cases are not in our courts or police records but with organisations. Out of the 70, only about 20 go back to school to continue with learning. What happens to the remaining 50 girls you already can tell," she says.

Ms Hassan notes that hundreds others get married after Grade Eight or while in high school, and the end result is always misery and more poverty.

A 2020 Unicef report says poverty is the main driver for child marriages in Kenya.

Norms and stereotypes around gender roles and marriage age, as well as the socio-economic risk of pregnancy outside marriage, also uphold the practice, the report says.

At least four per cent of girls are married at the adolescent stage, adds the report, and are likely to be victims of domestic violence.

The study recommends joint efforts to empower adolescent girls in unions and those at risk of marriage with life skills training, comprehensive sexuality education and continuing education.


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