Child Marriages: Will you marry me? No! (Fires a bullet)
Where A No is Yes.
In Sub-saharan Africa, one out of every four girls is at a high risk of getting married below the age of 18, with over 15 million children experiencing child marriage every year (UNICEF, 2020).
It has never crossed my mind going back to the village where I was raised as I am considered an outcast who forfeit the rich culture of the community. I was the top student in my class at fourteen, with a big dream of becoming a pilot. Every time an aeroplane flew overhead, I would be lost in deep thought, fantasizing of a brighter future. “Hello Ladies and gentlemen, it’s captain Jesse speaking, we have just commenced our descent into Nairobi and it should take us about twenty minutes to land. Estimated local time of arrival will be 11:00 pm. Local temperatures are 25 degrees and the weather is a bit cloudy with intermittent sunlight. Thank you for flying with Kenya Airways, we look forward to having you onboard very soon”.
It would take a lot of effort to come back to my senses as the dream seemed so surreal. Nevertheless, one day all those dreams were at risk of being shattered. I arrived home that evening humming a chorus that could help me memorize the mathematical table of multiplication that we had been given in class that day. and found three young girls seated in the living room. Being an orphan, I had to follow my uncle’s advice. He instructed me to select one for marriage as I had become old enough to build my home. I rejected his bid and ran for my dear life. He ran after me with a rifle in his hand ready to muzzle out bullets. He fired a few shots that gave my feet wings to sprint even faster. The rest of the narrative to where I am right now is a long history that will be unravelled soon.
A girl marries every 2 seconds!
Every time I open my nook of archives at the comfort of my meditation, vivid images of the three young girls I found at home race through my mind in proportions. Where would they be right now? Did they get married to another young kid or old man with no vision? Would they have completed their studies? Why didn’t they seem bothered by childhood marriage? How is it that they were all excited about taking this role that would consider them real women in the community? Are there other girls still experiencing the same? Indeed, they were just a representation of many others who are facing this plight.
Elina is a nineteen-year-old girl in Malawi who was married off to a 24-year-old man at the age of fifteen. She narrated the ordeal in an interview “I faced a lot of problems in marriage. I was young and did not know how to be a wife. I was pregnant, had to look after my husband, do housework, deal with in-laws, and work on the farm. My worst time was when I was pregnant; I had to do all this and deal with a pregnancy while I was just a child myself.” (Stirton, 2013)
Conversely, with the current emphasis on the girl child and most of them being saved from the wrecked ship of marriage, are there some young men being lured into marriages and social responsibility that hinders them from becoming “Pilots”?
According to the united nations, 23 million young boys got married before reaching the age of 15 last year, and the number is increasing every single day across different communities (Panday, 2020). According to Plan International, a girl married every two seconds and the current efforts are not as impactful as they are portrayed. Childhood marriage is a matter of urgency that the government and relevant stakeholders should implement radical actions to halt the practice or else we would end up losing an entire generation of changemakers. The professional workforce in the country would tremendously reduce because of a minute educated population, which would eventually drive the entire economy to a recession. According to a report released at the Second Africa Union Girl’s Summit, African countries with the most prevalent causes of child marriages are losing $63 million in terms of human capital and lost investment. (World Bank, 2020) This means that the number is higher given the number of male children who are being married off every year.
He is back, but without a rifle!
When I graduated with my first degree, I was shocked to see the uncle who wanted to take my life occupying the front seat. He was not holding a riffle this time, neither did he have any young girls for me. His countenance was full of exuberant joy which he expressed when he was given a chance to speak. “This boy made the best decision of pursuing education even when the odds are against him. I admire his courage, resilience and his speed( Giggling, as it was a joke only I and him could relate. I urge all of us to ensure that our young ones have been educated and forget about the cultural norms that eventually leave us entangled into poverty. I am proud of you and wish you all the best as you pilot your future. Your dreams are now a reality, Congratulations!”
Tackling the Challenge in Kenya, the hotbed of early marriages.
Community mobilization and would help tackle this challenge. Most of the child marriage cases are deep-rooted on unshakeable cultural grounds. Marshalling women and young girls by providing education and awareness programs on the repercussions of early marriage would enable them to have a voice in the community and stand against early or forced marriages. Moreover, they would engage grassroots leaders such as community elders in negotiation and lobbying for the compromise of some traditional norms regarding early marriages and would foster them to reach a middle ground in eradicating early marriages.
Reimagining the Kenyan education system is also a potential solution. Teenage pregnancies in schools is a major cause of early marriages in young girls. They are forced by their families into marriage to avoid shame. Having sexual education content delivered in primary school when the adolescents hit puberty would equip them with information on sexual health such as the contraceptives or abstention that would play a big role in sensitization and prevent early marriages through teenage pregnancies.
The leveraging of social media platforms is a way out. At zero marginal cost, we can empower women to start trending hashtags on social media regarding early marriages such as #Save our daughters #Our daughters not brides. Social media is a powerful tool for advocacy in Kenya and has the potential to channel massive action. It could lobby the involved stakeholders to take immediate action such as the government adhering to the United Nations General Assembly resolution on early and forced marriages.
Lastly, I am leveraging breakthrough technology to solve this. I am developing a mobile application called ‘Save my girl’. This will be a women empowerment tool that will have educational content to enable women to access important information regarding sexual education and early marriages. The capacity building accrued will enable them to deliver the content to their daughters and sensitizing the community on the importance of young women being educated rather than being forced into early marriages.
In conclusion, Kenya has a massive potential to thrive economically when early marriages are halted. It is a major cause of unemployment and low living standards as many of the young population ends up uneducated as they are faced with the responsibility of building a home. Women empowerment and community mobilization will debunk the plight experiences of young girls being married off hence ensure sustainable development. Child marriage is a pandemic that is spreading faster than the novel coronavirus yet little or no attention is being given to curb its adverse effects. Let us all join hands and see the change we want, saving the children is securing future generations.
African Union. (2020). 2nd African Girls Summit Kicked off. Retrieved 5 March 2020, from https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20181126/2nd-african-girls-summit-kicked
Panday, K. (2020). Around 23 million boys have married before reaching 15; ‘we can end this violation’ says UNICEF chief. Retrieved 5 March 2020, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1039971
Plan Int. (2020). Child marriage. Retrieved 5 March 2020, from https://plan-international.org/sexual-health/child-marriage-early-forced?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkJHK6fyC6AIVjcreCh2AbQkQEAAYASAAEgKo3fD_BwE
Stirton. (2013). Ending Child Marriage in Africa. Retrieved 5 March 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/09/ending-child-marriage-africa#_ftn1
UNICEF. (2020). Child marriage. Retrieved 5 March 2020, from https://www.unicef.org/wca/child-marriageWorld Bank. (2020). Africa Loses Billions of Dollars Due to Child Marriage, Says New World Bank Report. Retrieved 5 March 2020, from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/11/20/africa-loses-billions-of-dollars-due-to-child-marriage-says-new-world-bank-report