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Fatuma has 5 children at the age of 20; please stop early child marriage

By okun oliech | August 23rd 2016

Fatuma was only 15-years-old when she was forced to marry a stranger who was twice his age. Her dreams of becoming a doctor were shattered. By age 17, Fatuma had already given birth to her second child. Fatuma now is 20 years old and she has five kids. She depends completely on her husband who is usually a violent man. Fatuma is not alone. Every five minute a girl like Fatuma is forced to marry at a very tender age (below 18 years) ending their chances of completing their education and putting them at a greater risk of violence, isolation  and death during pregnancy and childbirth.

Globally 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 years each year. Most of these marriages occur in developing countries Kenya being one of them. Although Kenya has made strides in outlawing child marriage and protecting children’s rights, the practice is still rampant. In Kenya 25% of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday. Child marriage in Kenya is rampant in rural areas more so in Coast and North Eastern region.

Young married girls are usually subjected to sexual and gender based violence which increases their vulnerability to HIV and reduces their ability to negotiate for safer sex. A study done in Kisumu revealed that 33% of the married girls surveyed were infected with HIV.

Most girls in rural parts of Kenya are perceived by their families to be an economic burden to them or a source of wealth for their exchange value in terms of money, cows and other goods. Lack of education has also been cited as a key driver leading to child marriage. It is estimated that 70% of women aged 19 to 24 years with no education married before the age of 18 years; only 6% of women with secondary education or higher married before reaching 18 years.

Studies have shown that if we are to end children marriage then young girls and boys should be kept in school and given good quality education. Keeping girls in schools is critical in delaying their age of marriage.

Kenya has very good laws and policies on child marriage but when it comes to implementation of these laws we are not implementing them to the latter. Section 14 of the children act states that, No person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, dignity or physical or psychological development. Furthermore, in March 2014 the Kenyan parliament adopted the marriage act 2014 which set the minimum age of marriage to be at 18 years for both women and men. I call upon both county and national governments to implement this act to the latter. 

Child marriage is a violation of human rights and should be stopped. No girl should be forced to marry but instead should have the opportunity to access quality education and make choices about her future.

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