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Where girls' dreams 'go with the wind' due to old-age culture

Agnes Leina (center) the founder of Illaramatak Community Concerns talking to young mothers at Inkinye village in Kajiado County. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Described as the melting pot of Kenyan communities, Kajiado is a land of contrasts.

Beyond the town, and deeper into the villages, the unholy trinity of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriages and early pregnancies is wreaking havoc on the dreams of the girl child. 

On the face of it, a thriving celebration of the Maasai culture, the resplendent shukas and beads that bring to life suppressed joys, the fierce spear-holding Moran’s traversing the countryside, has blinded the world to the ugly truth.

Naserian (not her real name) is a lanky pre-teen girl at Elangata Wwuas primary school.

Ambitious, and determined to beat the village odds, she has set clear goals to study Law and become a judge to dispense justice.

Earlier this year, her school hosted celebrations to mark the day of the African Child. The chief guest was Justice Teresia Matheka, a judge of the High Court.

And only last week, Soipan Tuya, the immediate former Women Representative Narok, a Maasai woman, was vetted for the high office of Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Forestry a few weeks after being nominated. “I feel highly encouraged by these clear examples. I hope to walk in their footsteps, and become a famous person in the country,” she told The Standard.

But fired as she is, Naserian has to resist the urge and the nudge for early pregnancy, and early marriage which would no doubt, kill her dreams.

Despite massive campaigns by non-governmental organizations, local and national governments, Grade 6 and 7 continue to record huge numbers of girl dropouts.

She’s least worried about FGM owing to the increased awareness of the vice in her home area, but it’s not a sure bet yet.

Agnes Leina, Director of Ilalamarak, a non-governmental lobby, says that about 76 per cent of girls in the county do not attend school, while most of them end up as young mothers immediately after the ‘cut’.

Leina told The Standard recently that a rigged judicial system has not helped the situation. “The men who impregnate the school-going children, those who marry them off or introduce them to harmful cultural practices get away with these things, to the detriment of the victims,” said Leina. 

Leah Sankaire, Kajiado county Women’s Representative is worried that many parents are marrying off their daughters instead of encouraging them to pursue education.“We must avoid this bad culture. It is estimated that in Kajiado, almost every family has a minor married off or impregnated at a tender age. It is sad,” she said. 

A report presented to the government two years ago revealed that 160,000 girls aged 15-19 years were married off between June 2020 and February 2021. Of these, 100,000 were pregnant or gave birth.

Leaders now say the situation in the rural areas has worsened and the matter needs to be addressed urgently. Sarah Kwea, a principal at the International Teaching and Training Center based in Isinya, Kajiado, confirms that Class Six and Seven are the dreadful stages where girls drop out due to pregnancies.

The center offers scholarship training to girls, who either were married off at a tender age or dropped out of school after being forcibly circumcised.

‘’We have many girls who seem to have lost hope in life, many of them were very bright but were married off by their parents. But we are now giving them a second chance by teaching them how to become teachers,” said Kwea.

 Dorcas Parit, a director of Hope Beyond, another local organization that caters for girls rescued from FGM and early marriages, says the last two years have been bad for young girls in the area. “We are not going to rest until we make sure that our girls are safe,” she vows, while asking President William Ruto’s new government to take decisive steps towards affirming the rights of the girls.