Poverty blamed for the high rate of child and forced marriages

Esther Kimani, the Executive Director Young Women Leaders’ Institute (YWLI)  and Hon Ken Okoth MP Kibera constituency during the launch of the report  on child and forced marriages and sexual reproductive rights in Coast and Nyanza regions. Photo: Nancy Njoroge
Esther Kimani, the Executive Director Young Women Leaders’ Institute (YWLI) and Hon Ken Okoth MP Kibera constituency during the launch of the report on child and forced marriages and sexual reproductive rights in Coast and Nyanza regions. Photo: Nancy Njoroge

One out of four girls in Kenya will be married before their eighteenth birthday, shattering their childhood and exposing them to a myriad of problems.

A survey by Young Women Leaders’ Institute (YWLI) on child and forced marriages and sexual reproductive rights in Coast and Nyanza regions reveals that 26percent of girls are married before the age of 18years and six percent before they are 15 years.

The report at the same time indicates that an approximately 10 million girls in Kenya will be married before they are 18 years by 2030 and 15 million by 2050 if the current trend continues then

According to the report, most of these girls had dropped out of school, hardly engaged in employment and largely contributed to high maternal and child mortality rates and marriage instability.

Stigma

Many parents in rural Kenya marry off their children, particularly girls, as young as 14 due to the stigma associated with teen pregnancies which often leads to children being born out of wedlock.

Further, the young girls are more to birth related complications such as fistula. “This situation is further aggravated by the fact that very young girls often receive inadequate nutrition limiting even more their normal growth and development.”

In Nyanza, the study established that traditional practices still encourage early marriages. “There is a belief among the Luos that a girl who has reached puberty and dies before she is married remains a wondrous ghost, causing barrenness to all her sisters. The dead girl will always reproach the living unmarried girls by asking them: why did our fathers and brothers allow me to go to the grave without tasting the joy of a man,adds the report.

The report notes that such beliefs have enhanced child and forced marriages among the girls adding that poverty had contributed immensely to the menace.

“We have seen cases where parents want to marry off their daughters just to receive dowry and get rid of the economic burden.”

Complications

According to the survey, women married before 18 years were less likely to deliver in hospitals with the overall hospital deliveries standing at 68.2percent in both Coast and Nyanza regions.

The report further points out that such girls are less likely to give birth through assistance of qualified birth attendant with the overall at 65.8percent for both regions and less likely to use contraceptives which stands at 47.7percent for the two regions and also more likely to carry out unauthorized abortions which accounted for 5.7perecnt in the two regions,

The Marriage Act 2014 outlaws the marriage of persons before the age of 18 years.

Early marriages also contravene Article 16(2) of the universal declaration of human rights which states that marriage shall be entered into only with full consent of the intending spouse.

Statistics

Global estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that 140 million girls are married before they are 18years resulting to 39000 underage marriages daily.

The report also states that there was a high prevalence of early marriages among the women with no education compared to the women with education, and a high prevalence of early and forced marriages in the Muslim community compared to their Christian counterparts. The survey also discovered that force from parents for girls below 18years was at 74% making them the highest perpetrators of forced and early marriages.

YWLI proposes that advocacy programs be developed to help promote awareness of the Marriage Act  at all levels.

The report calls for the empowerment of the youth by providing them with information and knowledge they can use to convince family and community members that child and forced marriage has negative effects on them all.

The government should also ensure equal distribution of resources and employment opportunities to help in reducing the high poverty levels that have been blamed for early and forced marriages.