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Everyday practices that lead to child marriages, additional brides

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According to UNFPA over 700 million women alive today were married in childhood with 17% of them living in Africa.

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South Asia is leading followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific regions, respectively.

The study further reveals that if the risk of child marriage remains as today, there will be an additional 170 million girl brides by 2030.

To eliminate child marriage in totality by 2030, progress must be 17 times faster than the progress that has been made in the last decade.

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Drivers of child marriage and its impact

Gender norms assigned to girls

Gender roles imposed on women and girls play an important role in shaping the future of girls. From a young age, a girl is groomed to be a household caretaker in preparation for marriage.

Some grandmothers and aunts take the girl through mentoring sessions of taking care of a man which includes how to cook, what to wear, and how to speak. Girls are often viewed as sources of income and hence practices of early child marriage are a fete for most communities as it is an exchange of the girl for dowry.

Once a girl attains puberty in informal settlements/underserved communities, they are sent out to fend for themselves and the family and end up engaging in transactional sex.

As a result, these girls are denied the opportunity to pursue their education. Education is an enlightening experience that enables one to acquire skills and knowledge impacting their development in life.

However, in school, some of the skills and knowledge transferred are not adequate hence decision making becomes distorted because of ignorance.

Kenya is a signatory to several international and regional human rights treaties and declarations that seek to take care of the needs of adolescents.

Harmful Cultural Practices

All communities have customs that they observe and practice. However, some cultures subjugate girls, taking advantage of rites of passage to commodify girls, therefore, endangering their lives.

Some of the practices include female genital mutilation which signifies a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. In the Turkana community, the practice of beading is commonly witnessed.

This signifies that a girl has been betrothed. It is saddening to see girls as young as 10 years of age wearing the beads.

Lack of adequate legal framework and coordination

Child marriage has been illegal in Kenya since 2001 with the enactment of the Children Act. The Act defines a child as anyone below the age of 18 years, hence has no capacity to enter or consent to a union. There have been subsequent laws that have reiterated this fact including the Sexual Offences Act,2006, The Penal Code, revised Edition 2012, and the marriage Act,2014.

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However, we continue to see more girls being married off before the age of 18. According to UNFPA, Kenya has dropped in the prevalence of marriage from 27% to 21%. Nevertheless, this is far from the mark of having zero child brides.

The current policies have loopholes or are silent on issues that affect the livelihood of girls. The law is clear that “a child cannot enter a union with an adult”. This is a crime punishable by law as a minor cannot give consent.

However, it takes a long period for the girl to get justice and at times, justice is never served because of unscrupulous officials who manipulate the system.

There are some instances where the law is silent, case point, minor to minor unions. There have been cases where a boy has impregnated a girl either voluntarily or vice versa we only infer from case law as there is no explicit law that addresses this.

Lastly, enforcers against child marriage have been working in silos as opposed to collaboration having adverse effects on the child.

Need for urgent action

Child marriage is a harmful practice that interferes not only with a girl’s potential but her future too. They are limited when it comes to making decisions about their bodies and sexuality.

The government needs to show the goodwill of implementing the policies it currently has while closing on the loopholes that it has.

This can be done in the following ways:

  • Ensure that the all-girls access quality education which includes implementing the comprehensive sex education curriculum which adheres to age-appropriate sexual reproductive and health rights. This will empower girls to make informed decisions from a point of knowledge.
  • All officials who are involved in the response to gender-based violence cases who include the chiefs, police officers, health workers, court officials should undergo an induction on a gender-based response to inform them on how to deal with these types of cases. They should be undergoing regular training to increase their knowledge of the same. Girls and women have come out to say that they do not report because of the mistreatment they get when reporting.
  • The lawmakers should come up with a policy on ending child marriage that feeds into the policy of ending female genital mutilation. Aside from that, the lawmakers need to review the current laws and fix the loopholes.
  • The judiciary needs to ensure that they fast track cases of GBV to ensure that justice is not delayed, and actual convictions are taking place.
  • The county governments should follow in the footsteps of Makueni county in providing safe houses for girls at risk of SGBV. Each county should have shelter houses where girls at the risk of child marriage can seek refuge and run to and find help. Kenya has a shortage of shelter houses with most shelters being hosted by private entities which might not be affordable or accessible by the common citizen.
  • The government should provide all girls with free sanitary towels. Sanitary towels are a basic entity for a girl, and if a girl is not equipped with the necessary tools to manage her menses, chances of her dropping out of school are high. Lack of essential tools for dignified periods can also push girls to engage in activities such as transactional sex, child marriage, drug abuse making them vulnerable to exploitation.
  • Normalizing menstrual health conversations around menstruation should be done and should include the male gender. There have been incidents where girls have committed suicide by the mere fact that they stained their dresses and their male counterparts mocked them.



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