Guideline launched for religious leaders to fight child and forced marriage

Rev. Father Joseph Mutie(C) flanked by Sheikh Yusuf Abuhamza and GFN-IRCK Elizabeth Poku (Right) addressing the press on June 13, 2023, during Inter-religious council of Kenya and the launch of Kenyan advocacy on child and forced marriage guideline. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

A guideline for religious leaders to fight child and forced marriage has been launched.

The religious leaders will use the guideline including the pulpits to preach against child and forced marriage.

The guidelines are a brainchild of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya(IRCK) and the Global Freedom Network.

The Global Freedom Network is the faith-based arm of Walk Free, an international human rights group working to eradicate modern slavery in all its forms.

‘‘The shocking numbers in a report released after Covid-19 revealed an increase in early pregnancies, school dropouts and early marriages and no one is concerned about what is happening to these girls who went through these difficult times,’’ said Joseph Mutie, IRCK chairman.

He spoke during the launch of the guidelines in Nairobi.

‘‘We are coming together as religious leaders from different counties of the country and we are joining hands as a faith community to speak against forced marriages to walk with the families and that we do not advocate for early and forced marriages,” Mutie said.

According to the 2022 global estimates of modern day slavery, some 22 million people were living in forced marriages on any given day.

This is an increase of 6.6 million people living in forced marriages since 2016 when the latest estimates were released.

Back here in Kenya, Walk Free’s global slavery index estimates that 269,000 people were living in modern slavery in the country on any given day in 2021.

This included people in situations of forced labour and marriage.

Although there is no publicly available data on the prevalence of forced marriage, it was last reported in the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey(KDHS).

It found out that almost one quarter (23 per cent) of women and nearly three per cent of men aged 20 to 24 years were married before the age of 18.

Four per cent of women and less than one per cent of men in the same age group were married before the age of 15.

Kenya falls within the top 20 countries globally in terms of the total number of women aged between 20 and 24 who were first made to marry as children(580,000).

The rate of child marriage is highest in pastoralist communities in North Eastern at 56 per cent, followed by Coast(41) and  Nyanza(32).

In terms of counties, Tana River has the highest prevalence at nearly 60 per cent, followed by Turkana(57), Wajir(53) and Isiolo at 53 per cent.

According to Elizabeth Poku, programme coordinator for Global Free Network, despite Kenya having a strong legal framework certain laws are not being enforced.

‘‘We have Marriage Act, 2014, which does not criminalise child marriage and we are appealing to faith leaders to engage with the government and take steps to amend the Act so that we tackle this issue and reduce cases of child marriage in the country,’’ said Ms Poku.

She said a mobile application called Faith For Freedom which is available on Android phones has been launched in Kenya.

The app, she said will enable interaction between the religious leaders and has to report case features, referral mechanisms, and guidelines among other functions.

The religious leaders called for collaboration including with the government to partner with them in ending child and forced marriages.

They said child marriages are common in communities that do Female Genital Mutilation(FGM) like in Kisii and Nyamira counties because in such communities after a girl undergoes, it ‘qualifies’ one to get married.