Kenya: Girls in South Rift Being Married Off Then Taken to School

22 January 2020
opinion

At the crack of dawn, Doreen (not her real name) wakes up, prepares breakfast for her family, dashes to the bathroom to shower before dressing up ready to start her journey to a day secondary school some two kilometres away.

The teenage wife leaves her husband, a shopkeeper, at home as she braves the Monday morning chill, joining a file of other students trekking to school in Chebunyo, Chepalungu Constituency in Bomet County.

Apart from her husband, parents, fellow students and teachers who are in the know, there is nothing to betray the fact that she is no ordinary Form Two student.

CIRCUMVENT LAW

Hardly 16 years of age, she is one of the teenagers who have been married off then enrolled in school in a bid to beat the law protecting children from early marriages and sexual exploitation.

It is a similar case for 15-year-old Jackline (not her real name) who underwent circumcision in November last year and was then married off in December to a bodaboda rider in Narok.

During the day, these girls are students while in the evening and on weekends, they play their roles as wives in a new trend that has creeped into parts of the South Rift counties of Kericho, Bomet and Narok.

ARCHAIC PRACTICES

Here, the local communities have failed to abandon the archaic cultural practices of withdrawing their daughters from school, subjecting them to female circumcision and marrying them off to get dowry.

"Due to the pressure the administration and various government agencies have placed on the society with implementation of the Children's Act, the offenders have devised new methods to circumvent the law which include marrying off young girls and enrolling them in school," said Bomet County Commissioner Geoffrey Omoding.

"We have arrested several of the offenders after getting intelligence reports of the marriages. Our position is that both parents of the newly married girls, along with the husbands of the teenagers must be arrested and arraigned," he added.

CRACKDOWN ON OFFENDERS

He said chiefs and their assistants had been directed to closely work with education officers, teachers, police, Nyumba Kumi committee members, elders and the clergy in cracking down on the offenders.

Most of the offenders, it has emerged, are bodaboda riders, traders and farmers, most of whom dropped out of school for various reasons.

Narok Branch Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) secretary Charles Ngeno said special attention should be given to the education of girls in the region as there is a high dropout rate related to outdated cultural practices.

"Apart from enforcing the Children's Act, there is need to sensitise members of the local communities on the benefits of educating their children, the health hazards posed to girls by female genital mutilation, early marriages and pregnancies which could lead to deaths," said Mr Ngeno.

DEFILEMENTS

Bomet County Director of Gender and Social Services Rose Chepkorir said the region is replete with cases of defilements and rapes.

"The attack against girls by sex pests have led to unplanned for pregnancies and the rampant spread of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/Aids," said Ms Chepkorir.

Ms Chepkorir said the county government has put in place measures to sensitise residents on children's rights in a bid to turn the tide. She said this is starting to bear fruit.

Narok Deputy Governor Chepkirui Aruasa has said girls in the region require mentoring by women leaders in all professions and sectors of the economy.

"Alternative rights to passage from childhood to womanhood is slowly but surely taking root among the local community members in the region in what has seen a rise in the number of girls transiting from primary to secondary schools, universities and various middle level colleges," said Ms Aruasa.

SENSITISATION

Kericho Chief Officer for Youths and Sports Anthony Koskei said sensitisation against the vice is being conducted in multi-national tea estates in the region.

"Cases of early marriages have in the past been reported in multinational tea estates straddling Kericho and Bomet but have swiftly been dealt with in collaboration with various arms of government," said Mr Koskei

Mr Koskei said that in a bid to ensure women who had dropped out of school early for various reasons get a source of livelihood, Governor Paul Chepkwony has initiated an athletics programme.

"The governor's women athletes empowerment programme is biased in favour of girls and women within the ages of 15 to 39 years, be they parents or not. They may have dropped out of school for reasons beyond their control including early marriages and unplanned pregnancies. This will give them a new lease of life to pursue their dreams," said Mr Koskei.

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