Stories

Early marriages in western kenya

Nairobi, Kenya Cultural September 14 @ 12:59pm

Early Marriages in Rural Kenya and Informal Settings
For a long period in my life, I struggled to understand why my parents never wanted my family to stay in our ancestral home except on vacations. My six siblings and I felt overly important each fortnight of the family vacation. We were the “village champions’ at least for a quarter of our lives, but it did not take long before the reality dawned on us that we were growing older. Older in such a setting was the capability to start having children and being responsible parents. We were barely children how could we bring up people like us to this world and expect them to have a fairer chance at life? The rationale of my story is to give an insight of how things are in my village in which 13 year-olds are already housewives and perfect examples of how parents should be in the society. It is pitiable to see children of such a young age bartered in relationships and getting married because they were impregnated by equally young men. It was not until recently that I noticed a similar trend in most informal settings of the very metropolis in which I thought I would get reprieve from educated people who give detailed to more advanced issues in the society.
Early marriages are becoming trends that people no longer consider a taboo, but the best way to start a family early. According to doctors’ report from Kenya’s most renowned referral hospitals, women should consider having children at younger ages to prevent complications in the future. Apparently, the senior gynecologist in the institution established that the most ideal age to have children is between 23 and 29 because things get complicated after 30 years. However, what happens to a huge number of informal settlers that lack basic education, access to mainstream media, and such statistics? Their interpretation of having children and the most appropriate age to do the same is completely construed. The only thing they get to understand is that people should have children when young. Young mothers are grappling with family responsibilities as the struggling husbands get frustrated and further indulge in extramarital affairs. The situation worsens each time a young and unprepared mother gives forth to another child. In the village, it has translated to a situation that people no longer care about, but in the cities, there is a sudden rush to begin a family early. Nobody considers how the children will live since most of the time spent by the parents aim at increasing the household income to make the same offspring comfortable.
In 2015, women leaders in Kenya’s Kisii County organized an event to empower the girl child. According to the current first lady of the country, there are numerous efforts put in place to address early marriages. Most of the women leaders in the community are products of unsuccessful early marriages. They had children between 15 and 18 years and they could have as many as 14 children with the same man and before they knew it, they were co-wives to a set of at least five women. Things are changing very fast in terms of leadership and early marriages were some of the most ignored topics until the recent past. Women in their 40s and 50s today find the need to address an issue that was rather neglected in the past. Today, they hold political positions and they can protect their grand children from a cycle that not only promotes poverty, but reduces the value of education in most parts of rural Africa. People question the role of NGOs that fight for the rights of women and children to be specific. Most of them have been subject to scrutiny following their expenditures and lack of prioritization in handling gender related issues.
Back to the story of my family and the village life that for a short period improved our self worth. Each year, we went to the village thrice and the Christmas holidays were the longest. It took only about 27 visits before witnessing two of my primary school classmates having their first-borns. Later that year, both of them were married at 15, and I would presume they were only examples of children affected by peer pressure. Contrary to them, I was raised in rather conservative Christian family in which we had to uphold the religious values. Consequently, we had to show that we were different from the rest because of the level of exposure and alienation experienced after staying away from the village for almost 16 years. None of us including our 27 year-old firstborn had the urge to have a child until she was stable enough to take care of her family. I was 15 and could not take care of myself; how them was my age mate capable of taking such a huge task. The problem with such a lifestyle is that the young girls experience an awakening later in life. They are bound to make the worst life choices in an attempt to recover the lost time. Take for instance, a 13 year-old mother who never experienced her teenage life. The situation is worse in some regions of Kenya in which such young girls are married off to overly old people above 60 years. Is there anything that such a young girl gain from the marriage? Further, the marital life is distressful, child-bearing is risky, and raising of children is pitiable.
One of Kenya’s most talented musicians and business magnate who invests in the tours and travels industry and real estate is only one of the exclusive examples of women who escaped the ties of early marriages. By 14, she was pregnant with her first daughter and each year, she was either pregnant or lactating, I would not want to imagine. By nineteen, her working husband ended the union leaving her to the mercies of the streets. Her case is different because her educated and strict parents took her back to school irrespective of being a mother of three children. If not, she would be like any other young commercial sex worker striving to make ends meet in the vindictive world. Everybody strives to survive and nobody really cares about a teenage prostitute with a set of children she cannot feed. According to the Sustainable Development Goals, the achievement of universal primary education and healthcare are critical to human survival. Early marriages do not uphold the values of the two SDGs. First, the place the life of the teenager at risk, and secondly they boycott school or go through the institution much later in life. Most young mothers drop out of school because of a low self-esteem drawn from the teasing by fellow classmates. Few of them find the motivation to change their lives and it takes an excellent social support structure to achieve the same.
The reasons and consequences of early marriages are astonishing in the 21st century. A young girl in Kenya’s Samburu region or South Sudan has to settle for a 60-year-old man because of wealth. The first lady of Kenya remains speechless when a group of women in the villages she visited mentioned that they have no control over what happens in the lives of their children. The young girls need to learn from their parents, but what will they learn if their mothers are the consequences of the same decisions they make? Further, the fathers have nothing to offer because their greatest objective is the dowry. As such, the support structure within the village completely fails the girl child. She is bound to become a teen mother and chances are that such communities excise female genital mutilation. The moment the girls undergo circumcision, they become ready for adulthood. The transition permits them to be parents and tender ages. The uncircumcised counterparts are forced to go through the same or they face discrimination for the different life decisions they make. Such girls require the best healthcare, religious and social motivation system other than the political platform that mostly fails to achieve its objectives irrespective of years of activism.
When a girl has to conceive between 13 and 16 years, the risk levels of safe delivery increase. The teenager requires dedicated and excellent attention to ensure that she eats rights, avoids stress, and leads a comfortable life. Things get complicated in the village setting as none of the above accompanies any conception to delivery stages. Instead, a girl should display her preparedness for the marital responsibilities, which include going to the stream and making the family meals just to mention but a few. The concept of being “delicate” only emerges during delivery and on most occasions, the father is absent and might never offer moral support for the young mother. To make the situation worse, a child grows in a confusing environment in which he or she does not know if he or she should refer to the parent as a father or grandfather. Such societies should give detail to the children they raise in the same environments. Children deserve an opportunity to grow up in the best environments so they can become responsible adults in the future. Such settings provide limited opportunities for them to explore their potentials and to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. The greatest challenge is that the cities are the escape points for women who faced discrimination from the villages and wanted to seek reprieve. As such, the culture becomes even more prominent in the developed metropolises. The informal settings become the worst hit by such forms of rural-urban migration.
Another concern is that few of the young mothers can go for prenatal care. Some are not aware of the services while others cannot afford to walk for long distances to seek medical care. It takes the intervention of religiously motivated village nurses to help the young mothers overcome both physical and emotional pain. For instance, chances that the women might not seek special care and go for medical checkups are high and it could affect the unborn children in case the mothers are HIV positive. According to the first lady of Kenya, at least 8.9% of pregnant women in the country do not have access to proper prenatal care, which means that HIV cross-infection could occur if the society does not take necessary actions to reach out to the less educated teenage mothers. The same statistics revealed that 60,000 people in Kisii County live with HIV/AIDS and the number of the undocumented populations remains unknown. The problem is that the greatest proportion of the population incorporates children, and it explains the introduction of Beyond Zero Campaign to assist the vulnerable women in achieving safe delivery, prenatal, and postnatal care. Few developing countries enjoy such privileges from a responsive government or first lady. It means that the young mothers lack no one to care for them or educate them about life choices.
The situation is not entirely hopeless as efforts are underway to ensure that women are the very people that fight for the rights of the young girls. Irrespective of the same, men seem to oppose the very women that seek empowerment to overcome vices such as early marriages. NGOs and voluntary intergovernmental associations remain critical about such issues, but they do not receive the necessary support to achieve their objectives. The Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association took the initiative of tabling a bill to the parliament concerning the increase of women nominated MPs in the country. The Gender Bill met much opposition from the men who felt threatened because they felt that the issues of status quo only give advantage to women. When the affected groups of people fail to get the necessary support, young women in the villages and their counterparts in the metropolises’ informal settings will continue facing the adverse effects of early marriages. It will take a long way for the government to realize the significance of supporting NGOS and intergovernmental organizations in their quest to change the world. Each child deserves an opportunity to be brought up in a decent home while enjoying facilities without facing the possibility that their mothers will die during delivery. Further, they need the confidence that the parents will not compensate much time trying to live and grow normally because of the wasted time during teenage hood. Finally, no child deserves to live in an environment of “absentee” parents just because a young couple has to take up several jobs to make ends meet because both never completed formal education and cannot land decent jobs.
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