Why early marriages of teenage girls still thrives in some Kenyan communities
At the crack of dawn, the sun peaks out from behind the horizon. You can see the first rays of the sun grace the earth as the sun announces the coming of a new day.
Habiba is also up, to take the animals to the fields before she comes to prepare breakfast for her brothers before they leave for school.
She is left at home to take care of the homestead and livestock as everyone leaves to attend to their day’s work.
She, like her age mates, is not privileged to get an education; just because she lives in a community where the girl child has a lesser right to education than the boy child.
“I feel bad when I see my brothers going to school and I’m left at home to take care of the house chores only because I’m a girl,” says Habiba with tears in her eyes.
In September 2000, the largest gathering of world leaders adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets known as the Millennium Development Goals, with a deadline of 2015.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were time-bound with quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions including income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion while promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.
In September 2015, the MDGs came to an end and it was important for leaders to understand if all of the goals had been accomplished. In 2003, Kenya issued what it hoped would be the final call to realize universal primary education. It cushioned this call on the 2001 Children’s Act Cap 586 of the Laws of Kenya which asserts that “every child is entitled to free basic education.”
In a place like Isiolo, where 69 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, this goal will be a hard nut to crack.
“I prefer my daughter to herd the livestock instead of wasting her time because at the end of it all she will drop out by the time she is getting to secondary school,” says Hassan Hussein, Habiba’s father.
These are the kind of stories one gets to hear from one homestead to another with girls being the most affected.
“There is no need for Habiba to go to school as she will be married very soon. I will then use her dowry to take her two brothers to secondary school,” adds Ashama Hussein, Habiba’s mother.
Early marriage is another hurdle these young girls have to cross. In this part of Kenya, parents marry off their children at a young age for prestige and a source of income – they will not get pregnant out of wedlock while at their fathers’ homes. Marrying off a young girl will also earn the family a few cows, camel and goats. The family can sell the animals and use the money for their upkeep.
An estimated 23 percent of girls in Kenya are married before their 18th birthdays, the main reasons being poverty, tradition and gender inequality.
Parents ‘sell’ their girls for money and UNICEF says those from low-income families are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood, compared to children in wealthy families.
Women living in rural areas are twice as likely as their rural counterparts to be married below the age of 18.
Child marriage rates vary across regions – North Eastern and Coast have the highest prevalence rates while Central and Nairobi have the lowest.
According to UNFPA, one in every three girls in developing countries is married before attaining the age of 18, and one in nine is married before turning 15.
If nothing is done to change this trend, an estimated 70 million girls will be married as children over the next five years. This translates to tens of thousands of girls everyday.
Underage marriage is a human rights violation because it poses health risks and limits the girls’ options.
Many complications come with early marriage. Last year, two girls lost their lives while giving birth. These complications are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.
Apart from early marriage, maternal health is also something the government needs to look into. Proper care during pregnancy and delivery is important for the health of both mother and baby. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least four antenatal care visits during a woman’s pregnancy
The community still needs to be educated on the importance of taking their loved ones to health facilities during and after this delicate period. In Isiolo, the problem is not only attributed to lack of education but also lack of infrastructure. The roads in the area are in a bad condition and get worse during the rainy season.
The health facilities are also far from the people and sometimes insecurity in the area makes it hard for women to get access to hospitals. Health facilities are in some cases shut down for security reasons, leaving women with no choice but to give birth at home with the help of the midwives.
“A few days ago, the roads were impassable because of clashes between warring communities in the region. My daughter in law went into labour and had to be assisted by a midwife. The baby survived but the mother died from excessive bleeding,” says Sofia Wako, a resident of Kinna.
Maternal mortality is unacceptably high. About 800 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications around the world every day. In 2013, 289,000 women died during and following pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented.
Isiolo is one of the 15 counties in Kenya with a high burden of maternal mortality. It’s the fifth county with the highest level of maternal mortality with 790 deaths per 100,000 live births.
In sub-Saharan Africa, a number of countries have halved their levels of maternal mortality since 1990. In other regions, including Asia and North Africa, even greater headway has been made.
However, between 1990 and 2015, the global maternal mortality ratio (i.e. the number of maternal deaths per 100 000 live births) declined by 44 percent – from 385 deaths to 216 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to UN inter-agency estimates.
This translates into an average annual rate of reduction of 2.3 percent. While impressive, this is less than half the 5.5 percent annual rate needed to achieve the three-quarters reduction in maternal mortality targeted for 2015 in Millennium Development Goal 5.