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Under-age marriages still rampant in Kenya, despite being outlawed

Despite the promulgation of a law prohibiting child marriages in Kenya, the practice is still rampant in the country’s rural areas, according a recent study by Plan International in Kenya.

The report

The report indicates that most parents in rural Kenya marry off their girl children as young as 14 to escape to pangs of poverty and out of the fear and stigma associated with teen pregnancies and children born out of wedlock.

Deeper analysis reveals that girls are either seen as an economic burden or  valued as capital for their exchange value in terms of goods, money and livestock. It also apparent that a combination of cultural, traditional and religious arguments are used to justify child marriages.

The Kenya’s new Marriage Bill outlaws marriage below the age of 18. It states that no person shall get engaged or betrothed to a person under the age of eighteen years. The law imposes stiff penalties to anyone who gets engaged or betrothed to a person under the age of eighteen years.

However, Plan’s report, based on recent research conducted across 8 Counties, says most of the under-age girls were being married off to men who are significant older than them.

Worrying Trends

The research showed that child marriage was high among girls compared to males. 43 percent of the girls interviewed were married when they were below 18 years. This proportion is higher than national prevalence which stands at 34 percent for female and 1.4percent for males.

Statistics show that Kilifi has the highest prevalence of child marriage with 47.4 per cent, followed by Homa Bay 38 percent, Kwale 37.9 percent, Bondo 29.5 percent and Tharaka 25.3 percent.

It also notes worrying trends on increasing number of girls engaged in child labour within their household and are putting many hours in filling up for their absentee parents some of whom are employed as house helps which hinders them from attending school and eventually drop out.

Need to work together

“Improving access to education for both girls and boys and eliminating gender gaps in education are important ways of ending the practice of child marriage,” says Samuel Musyoki, Acting Country Director for Plan Kenya.

He added that: “Lobbying and advocating for enforcement of laws of sex with under-age children and forced marriage can also be one of the approaches that can be employed to deal with these problems.

“At a governmental level, individual ministries need to work together to coordinate efforts to tackle the social and economic barriers to girls’ education that cut across multiple sectors.

Under it’s Because I Am A Girl Campaign, Plan is calling for a minimum of 9 years schooling for girls and boys – which ensures a better transition to the critical stage of secondary education.

Because I am a Girl is Plan's campaign to fight gender inequality, promote girls' rights and lift millions of girls out of poverty.

Learn more about the campaign www.becauseiamagirl.org

Download the ‘Because I am a Girl’ Kenya Country report 2012. (PDF File; 700KB)