Photo Courtesy: 123RF.com
By Esther Kimani (@KelsieKim )
CULTURE in Africa and many parts of the world allows girls to be married off as young as 10 years or before they are 15 years, CULTURE allows old men to rape girls in the name of “she is my wife”, CULTURE does not allow for girls who are married to access contraceptives and health care services, CULTURE allows for girls to be sex slaves in the name of Beading of girls, CULTURE silences girls to take control over their sexuality, their bodies, CULTURE denies them their rights to bodily integrity, to sexual and reproductive rights, CULTURE has taken hostage of girls bodies.
Five years ago, I visited a town called Oloitoktok in Kenya and met 5 girls brides; some had been rescued and were back in school but Susan was still a bride.
I asked her; why are you still living with him and community leaders are willing to help? I haven’t forgotten her response.
“My CULTURE (Maasai) does not allow, it owns me, My husband owns me, My parents own me too, I do not have a say, I hate this CULTURE but I am its PRISONER”
She continued by saying; I am 14 years old, I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter and my full names are “Susan Kaimenyi” She narrates;
Three years ago when I was only 11 years my parents made sure that I got circumcised, even when I refused my mother said that “this is our CULTURE, I went through it all girls in this community did and you must do it”.
I felt helpless at that time I did not know much about family because I was just a child, I wanted to play with my friends I was still in school I was just a girl. A year after I went through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) my mother sat me down again and told me that; “my daughter you are a woman now, women in our CULTURE start their homes and family after going through FGM and it is very important to your father to me and the entire clan”
Mmmmhh I wondered what is this CULTURE that allows girls as young as me to get married to an old man. Because I did not know what to do, I was so young my father had already taken all the cattle’s paid as dowry so I was forced to go.
The first few months into this so called marriage, I cried and cried and cried, sex was painful; this man forced himself on me the first night and every other night; he beat me up and threatened to kill me if I say anything to anyone. Every time he would force himself on me he would say “according to our CULTURE a wife must give in all the time to satisfy her husband” I thought about killing myself all the time but I could not because I was pregnant and according to the CULTURE: a wife needs to reproduce.
I got my first-born 10 months after I was forcefully married off. My son is about 14 months now; I have been forced to grow up to take care of him. I delivered at home with the help of Traditional Birth Attendant and was later taken to hospital. The nurse who looked at me with pity and sympathy, she took good care of me. Before we left the hospital when she was talking to me about family planning, my mother butt in and said “or CULTURE does not allow women to use family planning you must give birth until your body stops” So I did not and now I am two months pregnant again.
I know I am not the only one I cannot wait for the day my body will be freed from CULTURAL captivity, girls need to be protected from being a prisoner of CULTURE.
This is a story of just one child bride however; Worldwide, about 1 in 3 women were married before age 18, with the highest rates of child marriage in South Asia. Asia is closely followed by West and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa, where 41 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively, of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married in childhood. This is unacceptable, we need to join forces and end forms of violence against girls in the name of CULTURE.
As we celebrate the Day of the African Child today with theme “Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Africa by 2030″, We need to ask ourselves these questions; When will our girls be safe? Who will protect them from this scourge of violence? Who is responsible? Who will rescue girl’s bodies from CULTURAL captivity? WHO?
We are all responsible to ensure girls rights are protected, Women, Men, Religious leaders, Civil Society Organizations, Governments, the UN system, private institutions and all International agencies. We all need to commit to end violence against girls, we need to commit to change these retrogressive cultures that violates girls, we need to make sure that; girls have access to contraceptives, information on their sexual and reproductive health and rights and access to comprehensive sexuality education that will prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce deaths resulting from unsafe abortions.
The author is a Young Feminist Who Believes in Women Rights. She is also a FEMNET member.
She currently works with the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH ). You can follow their work at ticahealth.org and on Twitter @TICAH_KE.