Child marriage is shaped by customs, religion and poverty and exacerbated by ethno-religious dilemmas, perennial conflicts and environmental disasters. Girls are denied the right to education, made to toil in domestic servitude and live in physical seclusion in their husbands’ marital homes. Child brides everywhere in Eastern Africa are disempowered, susceptible and oppressed. Girl brides have less access to educational, family planning and obstetric care services, reside in poorer and rural areas, are victims of physical or sexual violence, have their right to free movement restricted, and are denied access to health and social services.
In Kenya, as it is in other parts of the developing world, girls are being forced to lose their childhoods for a life that is defined by isolation, violence and illness because of several key factors. They include poverty, lack of education and job opportunities, insecurity in the face of war and conflict, and the force of archaic customs and traditions that devalue women and girls and discriminate against them.
Child marriage is a gross violation of human rights and a barrier to girls’ health and social well-being. It severely impedes Kenya’s development efforts including undermining initiatives to raise girls’ education, to reduce maternal mortality, and to increase employment and enterprise levels. Child marriage is an affront to all development efforts as defined by the elusive millennium development Goals and Kenya’s own Vision 2030.
In our view, child marriage is an outcome of the official tolerance of insidious cultural, societal and customary norms that shape and govern the institution of marriage and family life. Child marriage is culturally packaged as a social necessity, but in many cases it amounts to socially licensed sexual abuse and exploitation of the girl child.
Child marriage is more common in rural communities. This is because rural households tend to have more entrenched traditional attitudes and customs, are less affected by external influences, and have fewer livelihood options for young women. It is one of the most persistent forms of sanctioned sexual abuse of girls and young women in many communities across Kenya
The Child Marriage pandemic
Child marriage is a global problem that impedes the development, wellbeing and life options of affected individuals and their families. Girls as young as twelve are being forced into marriage and losing their childhoods for a life that is defined by isolation, violence and poor health. Girls are forced to give up their childhoods because they are forced to marry at a young age.
In Africa over 42% of girls are married before they reach the age of 18, with millions of girls being given away just before they attain puberty. Furthermore, 31 out of the 41 countries where the prevalence rates of child marriage are more than 30% are African countries. UNFPA estimates indicate that East Africa continues to have the largest burden of child marriage in Africa. Early marriage thwarts a girl’s chance at education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development. Marrying at a young age has lifelong consequences. National indicators on maternal health, education, food security, poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, and gender equality are all negatively correlated with high child marriage rates at the grassroots
Harmful traditional and cultural practices contribute to the persistent gender inequality and the rampant violence against women and girls in Kenya. Traditional cultural practices reflect values and beliefs held by members of a community for periods often spanning generations. Every social grouping in the world has specific traditional cultural practices and beliefs, some of which are beneficial to all members, while others are harmful to a specific group, such as girls.2 The socializing processes observed for boys and girls are designed and rigorously applied to instill a feeling of superiority to boys while girls are groomed to accept subjugation and inferiority with apathy hence the subjecting of girls to destructive practices including child marriage and female genital mutilation. This established patriarchal system has long endured the passage of time cutting across geographical boundaries as well as religious and class differences.
Violence against girls in Kenya as it is in other parts of the world is an aftermath of profound social systems that advance and proliferate it. Attitudes that generate traditions of terror and encourage the use of force as enshrined in patriarchy, negative masculinity and the entire negative socialization process remain ever present