Girl's mission to escape poverty lands her in cruel marriage

NATIONAL |

Ghati* underwent FGM in October 2020 out of choice in order to get married. Six months into the marriage, her husband started beating her. [Gardy Chacha, Standard]

Ghati*, 14, is currently in hiding. Her mother, Weisiko*, is fearful for her daughter’s life after the girl was beaten by her husband.

The incident that happened last month in Gibarori village in Kuria West left the girl nursing an injury on her leg, which has since developed into a septic wound. 

“My husband arrived from Nairobi and started beating me. He did not tell me what wrong I had done,” Ghati says.

Ironically, the young girl became a wife out of her own desire to get married.

Last October, Ghati told her parents that she was “ready” to undergo the rites of passage, which include Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

“I wanted to be cut so that I could get married. My parents are poor and I have seen their struggles. Marriage to me was a practical option,” Ghati says.

Indeed, Ghati underwent the cut. Her parents, as per tradition, prepared and served a feast to mark their daughter’s transition into adulthood.

“When she told us that she wanted to be cut, we did not object. We went ahead with the plans,” Weisiko says.

Come January 2020, Ghati left home to start marital life with a man she had struck a friendship with at the market in Kegonga Town.

This was Marwa’s* second marriage. “I married my first wife around 2018 as soon as I healed from circumcision,” he says.

“The woman left because I am poor. So, last year, I met Ghati and we hit it off.”

The two eloped. He however paid a bride price of three cows (according to him), but which his mother-in-law says were “calves”.

Marwa has no track of dates. He dropped out of Standard Six in 2019, according to a neighbour who is better acquainted with the dates.

“Illiteracy levels in this village are very high,” the neighbour, who did not want to be named, said. “The average person can’t tell you which year we are currently in.”

Ghati says she was born in 2007 – which seems just about correct considering that she went through FGM last year.

A 2011 study carried out by Population Council in Kenya, in partnership with Feed the Minds (a UK organisation), reports that the average age for circumcision of girls is between 15 and 18.

Predictably, Ghati is among about 250,000 girls – as estimated by the Presidential Policy and Strategy Unit in a study titled Impact of Covid-19 on Adolescents – who did not report back to school in January 2021. She was in Class 7 when the lockdown was announced.

The study concluded that at least 160,000 girls got married and another 100,000 girls became mothers in the period schools were closed following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ghati has given up on education. When asked if she would be willing to go back to school, she responds: “Right now I just want to go for a technical course to be a hairstylist.”

FGM is still widely practised among the Kuria community domiciled in south-western Kenya.

“This is our culture,” Samson Wankuru, an elder from Kuria East, told The Standard. “Our forefathers did it. It is our way of life.”

Kenya’s FGM prevalence rate is 21 per cent with the Kuria having a prevalence of 86 per cent according to the Anti-FGM board.

Weisiko says of her daughter: “She only eloped because she felt that after the cut, she had become a woman and was therefore ready for marriage.

“Her age mates who were not cut are going on with school while she is in hiding from an abusive husband and her leg is rotting. We can’t afford her treatment.”

“I am convinced that FGM is bad. My daughter’s life has changed for the worse after going through the cut.”

Marwa is remorseful for the injury he caused to Ghati, saying that he was overtaken by emotions after a friend informed him that his wife was philandering at nearby Kehancha town centre.

Ghati’s leg is getting worse with boils erupting around the main wound. Her family fears the leg will have to be amputated if she is not treated soon.

FGM is a crime in Kenya: Perpetrators can be fined a minimum of Sh200,000 or three years in prison or both.

Last year, in Kuria West, 24 perpetrators were nabbed and prosecuted and 38 girls were rescued from the cut, according to Kemboi Kimaiyo, the sub-county police commander. 

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