By DORIS KATHIA and PURITY NTHIANA
Kenya ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, a United Nations human rights treaty between nations to protect children from a number of abuses.
Yet 20 years since Kenya enacted the Children’s Act in 2001, essentially making child marriage illegal in the country, the prevalence of child marriage still stands at 23%.
Early marriage has negative consequences on reproductive health as it exposes the girls to early pregnancy which can lead to high maternal deaths and injuries for girls aged 15-19, high risk of HIV, and various psychological consequences.
Child marriage also takes away the freedom of the child to choose. Girls as young as 9 years (or once they start their menstrual cycle) in some communities may get married off to some old men by their parents in exchange for livestock or goods or because they are seen as an economic burden hence deterring them from reaching desired goals.
Perpetrators of child marriage often get away with these violations as long as the implementation of these laws remains a challenge. Deep cultural practices and societal norms also are the key reasons why the girls are married off.
Girls do not have a voice and many of these communities in Kenya tend to be deeply patriarchal. Boys are the only ones allowed and equipped to be financial providers and make decisions, resulting in families valuing them more than girls.
Families usually pull girls out of school before boys. Globally, girls who are married young face higher risks of pregnancy-related death due to early, poorly spaced, and oft-repeated pregnancies and childbirth, high rate of obstetric fistula, premature births, STIs.
They are also more vulnerable to domestic violence, social isolation and depression. These are human rights violations because they deprive the girl child to control her own future. Girls who are married early are more likely to repeat the cycle of perpetuating stereotypical gender roles and to transmit these norms to their own children.
We need to create awareness in the communities of the available agencies like Kenya National Council for Children’s Services toll-free 116 where individuals can access support and connect to law enforcement agencies in times of need.
The Kenyan government needs to institute a comprehensive, functional child protection system that captures child marriage to offer reliable data that will aid in combating early marriages and inform policies and pinpoint districts where more resources are needed for programs to safeguard children from early marriage for meaningful action.
The laws, therefore, need to be effectively enforced. County governments should launch programs in poverty-stricken areas to provide employment opportunities to address poverty which is a major cause of child marriage whilst equipping the societies with education and enlighten them on the dangers of some harmful cultural practices.
Additionally, county governments should work hand in hand with grassroots organizations to completely eradicate child marriage in the society.
Ms. Doris Kathia and Purity Nthiana are youth advocates at the Network for adolescents and youth of Africa (NAYA) Kenya.