How early marriages kill dreams of teenage girls in Dadaab camp

Fatma Abdirahman, a foster mother at the Dagahaley Refugee Camp. [Jeckonia Otieno/Standard]
Four teenage girls tell the story of how culture can destroy the dreams of girls.

The situation worsens if they live in a refugee camp. Mariam got married to a fellow pupil when the two were at a local school in Dagahaley Refugee Camp. They were in Class Six and the relationship blossomed despite opposition from her parents.

“When the young man and his parents came to seek my hand in marriage, my parents refused arguing that I was still young and they really wanted me to continue with schooling,” says Mariam who has a one-year-old baby girl.

She dropped out of school in Class Seven after getting pregnant and the two got married. She is now 17 and her husband is 22. She says she has settled in her marriage and is looking forward to bear 12 children.

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Like Mariam, Habib also got married to a young man with whom they attended Duksi, a form of Islamic Education, and suffered obstructed labour when she gave birth at 16. 

“I was not sure what I was getting into and regret getting married,” Habib says, adding that her mother was always sickly and being the eldest child, she had to carry the burden of her six younger siblings. She had to drop out of school.

Sabrina has an almost similar story to the other two. She wanted to be in school but pressure from her parents forced her to get married when she was only 17. Early marriages are widely accepted among the Somali community.

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Counsel children

Mohamed Abdi, a Dagahaley-based child protection counsellor says that marriages are often kept under wraps. “The only time you come to realise that an underage girl has been married is when there is a problem or when they come for services,” says Abdi, who is contracted by Save The Children to counsel children in distress.  

The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage notes that for poor families who have lost livelihoods, land and homes because of a crisis, marrying their daughter may seem an option to alleviate economic hardship. This is because it reduces the number of mouths to feed, or in some cases, provides extra income in the form of bride price. A research published in the journal BMC Medicine found that the community has a strong desire for large families and the primary social role of a woman as a child bearer impacted maternal and neo-natal health in the camps through preferences for early marriage, low demand for contraception, and avoidance of caesarean sections. These are some of the roadblocks that hinder the development of girls among the refugee communities.

More than half of the population in Dadaab is made up of children. By 2017, the population of the entire camp 238,786 with 120,959 of these being school-going age in which these teenage mothers fall.

The four girls the Saturday Standard spoke to have undergone vocational training to uplift them economically through a programme run by Save the Children Kenya.

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Teen PregnanciesEarly Child MarriagesDagahaley Refugee CampDadaab Refugee Camp