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Hunger pushes children out of class to seek food in bushes and marriages

By Marion Kithi | Nov 18th 2021 | 3 min read

Residents of Mariango and Mitangani village walk with their jerricans as they search for water after almost all rivers and water points went dry, February 3, 2017. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

School going children are bearing the brunt of the drought ravaging parts of the Coastal region.

Education stakeholders and villagers yesterday reported a rise in cases of school dropout and forced marriages in Kilifi and Tana River counties. Meanwhile, in other parts of Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River and Kwale counties boys have dropped out of school to burn charcoal and sell to buy food for their families.

Other than commercial activities, young girls and boys have been forced to walk long distances in search of water. Yesterday, Tana River County Education Director James Nyagah said more than 25 girls had been married off so that their families could get food.

The challenges for accessing education in Kilifi and Tana River are well-known, but Nyagah said the severe drought had worsened the situation. In remote parts of the county, there are unconfirmed reports of girls being forced to get married so that the families can get dowry to buy food. “More than 25 girls have been married off so that the family gets food,” said Nyagah.

In Kilifi County’s Magarini area, many boys have dropped out of school to burn charcoal, at least to sustain their families.

“The impact of drought on boys here is severe. They have to juggle schooling and burning charcoal, and at school, they no longer have the energy to learn,” said Irene Chengo, a primary school teacher in Magarini.

According to Dama Katana, a resident of Ganze, school-going girls are sometimes forced to stay home during their menstrual periods because of lack of water to bathe. “Many girls stay at home because they lack water to bathe properly and wash their clothes on their menses,” she said.

Kenya Red Cross Society estimates that 145,000 people in Kilifi are struggling to survive famine conditions. The number is projected to double by the end of the year. “We have had one month only of short rains since the start of 2020,” said Kitsao Kaingu, a community leader in the village of Tsangalaweni in  Ganze.

In the villages, girls, boys and mothers are the most affected by drought and famine. “Drought has robbed my children of the right to education. My five children no longer go to school because of the drought,” said Mary Chengo of Mwangatini in Kilifi.

The 40-year-old single mother of 11 is living with disability. She said drought for the past two years had also economically disabled. “I’m a farmer. I used to earn through farming. That’s how I used to care for my children. But it is two years now since I last harvested,” said Chengo.

According to the residents, the Sabaki - Galana River and the fish ponds around have also dried up. Chengo lives in the hope that one day it will rain.

In the nearby Mijikenda Kayas (shrine) forests, the elders are busy praying for rain.

There has been no drop of rain in the region for the last two years.

“I’m hopeful that the God who parted the Red sea will hear my cry, at least my children go back to school,” said Chengo.

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