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How dormitories act as forts against harmful practices

By Nanjinia Wamuswa | September 5th 2021

Some of the girls learning and living in Elang’ata Enkima primary school located in Loitoktok, Kajiado County. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

A wire-netting fence held by metal bars and concrete pillars and a strong iron gate surround two dormitories inside Elang’ata Enkima primary school located Loitoktok, Kajiado County.  

And with plans to have security person at the gate scrutinising anyone entering and leaving, these dorms are soon to be a well-secured place within the school.

One of these protected dormitories houses Pauline (not her real name) and other young girls threatened by early, forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The dormitory is a sanctuary for Pauline and her friends. “I am safe, learning and living in the school. I no longer struggle with long distances to and from school,” she says.

Before moving to the school, danger and fear had become all too familiar for her. 

One evening in early 2018, while Pauline was coming back from school, a group of men waylaid her. She now believes the ambush was organised by her father, to have her cut and later married off.

“I suspected it was him because he’d told me many times that l was a big enough to face the knife and get a husband -- a man who would give them wealth. But l all l wanted was education,” she narrates.

She recalls how her father became angry when she refused to go through the female cut, which involves partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Despite waking up at 5am, walk for almost 7km to school and the same distance back home in the evening, Pauline then in Class Five, was determined to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor.

Around that time, her prayers were answered and she was rescued.

In Kenya, one in every four girls is married before she reaches 18 years. And in the Maasai culture, girls enter arranged marriages while still young, and this has also been linked to FGM. 

It is estimated that more than 500,000 girls and women in Kenya are at risk of undergoing FGM by 2030 if no urgent actions are undertaken.

While the national child marriage prevalence has decreased from 26.4 per cent (KDHS 2008-2009) to 23 per cent (KDHS 2014), the cultural practice or early marriages is still prevalent in the Maasai community.

Various organisations fighting for children rights have been pushing to accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2040.

Among aspirations in the Agenda 2040 are, every child is protected against violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse, every child survives and has a healthy childhood, every child benefits fully from quality education and every child grows up well-nourished and with access to the basic necessities of life.

For this reason, ChildFund Kenya, working with its local partners, Mt Kilimanjaro Child Development Program and the Kajiado County, is running a project named Binti Shujaa (The Heroine) that hopes to reach over 5,000 girls with educational, psychological and social support through various interventions at Elang’ata primary.

Angela Lapasi, Programme Coordinator, Mt Kilimanjaro Child Development Program says the area was identified through need assessment, following high number of teenage pregnancies.

She says learners also faced challenge of long distance, walking almost 10km to school and same back home.

“But girls faced interference by Morans who waylaid them along the way. This forced many girls to drop out of school, and into forced marriages,” she revealed. 

Angela explains cases of early marriages are on decline, since most of the girls whose parents wanted to marry them off now live within the school, acting as rescue centre.

Stephen Mutua Mwalimu, head teacher at Elang’ata Enkima primary school lauds the dormitory and class project is going to help the community, rescuing girls who have been covering long distance, at times forcing others miss school.

In boarding facilities, the vulnerable girls are out of dangers of FGM, early marriages and unwanted pregnancies.

“I foresee in future we will have a very enlightened society because the learners would have gone through a system that is well enabled through education system,” he said.

Mutua however regrets, nine pupils sat the last KCPE while pregnant. Also, after schools reopened following the corona, several girls had been married off, including a class four girl.

“Binti Shujaa aims to enhance provision of inclusive and equitable quality education and learning opportunities for girls in Kajiado. Enhancing enrolment, retention, transition and completion rates of girls is aimed at reducing their chances of being married off at a younger age,” says ChildFund Country Director Chege Ngugi.

He added girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence.

Ngugi says the project has helped more than 30 girls transit from primary to secondary schools annually in the area.

He explains, “The impact of this project is going to be huge culturally and will contribute to community transformation. We are committed to ensure that children not only have access to quality education but that they are safe and empowered to achieve their full potential.”

David Manini, Assistant Chief, Elang’ata Enkima Sub Location explains that initially the area had many cases of FGM, early marriages and early pregnancies, but various projects have helped reduce the problem.

“The government will continue to fight the bad traditions and ensure every child attends school,” he said.

He revealed they are also empowering parents to realise the need and importance of taking girls to schools rather than marrying them off after undergoing female cut.

Pauline is now happy, her father no longer talks about the marriage issue, especially the government through local administration educated them on importance of education and dangers of female cut to girls.

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