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Child marriages continues unabated in Kenya

16 June 2015, 22:15

Nairobi - Nancy Oloo, a 13-year-old Kenyan girl was walking home slightly after dusk when all of a sudden, a pair of strong hands grabbed her and dragged her into a maize plantation about 30 meters from her father's home.

The man, old enough to be her grandfather and known to Oloo's family, then proceeded to rape her.

Oloo's father reported the matter to the local chief, and the man was apprehended forthwith and locked in the cell for a number of days.

However, the girl's father came up with what he thought was a "brilliant" idea: Since her daughter's innocence had already been destroyed, why couldn't the man just marry his daughter and save the girl the agony of living with shame as a rape victim.

The idea was vehemently objected to by Oloo's other family members and fellow villagers alike.

Oloo's plight surmises the plight that quite a few Kenyan girls

find themselves in for one reason or the other -- child marriage.

Twenty-five years after the adoption of the African Children's Charter to end child marriage in Africa, the practice is still widespread like before.

As Kenya marks the Day of the African Child on Tuesday, questions abound why does child marriage in Kenya thrives unabated despite the relevant laws in the land to guard against violation of child rights and stop the vice.

Plan International, the global children's charity, which is devoted to providing assistance to underprivileged children in developing countries, has called on world leaders to ensure stringent measures to end child marriage because it infringes girls' rights.

Even as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child was established to give them a set of rights, child marriage continues to violate girls' human rights, curtail their schooling, harm their health, and sharply constrain their futures.

Plan International Regional Director, Roland Angerer, said that East and Southern Africa alone harbors seven million child brides and if the current trends continue, the figure is estimated to double by 2020.

"We are in a historic place at a historic day, remembering the youth of Soweto who marched for their right to education in 1976 to overcome the crucial system of racial apartheid," Angerer said during the occasion to mark the day.

"Today we are here to raise our voice against a crucial system of gender apartheid which robs millions of girls of their future," he said.

Angerer called on leaders to harmonize legislation in all African countries and establish a minimum age of 18 years for marriage for both girls and boys.

He said the laws need to be supported by efficient and effective birth and marriage registration systems as well as efforts to increase girls' access to secondary schools.

The theme this year in the commemorations of the Day of the African Child focuses on "Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa."

It is a call to African governments, citizens and parents to ensure that all forms of child marriages in Africa are brought to an end and 18 years established as the age of marriage.

Kenya's new Marriage Bill outlaws marriage below the age of 18 and imposes stiff penalties to anyone who gets engaged or betrothed to an underage person.

In Kenya, approximately 2 million girls of school-going age are not in school, and only 47.6 percent of girls are enrolled into secondary schools compared to 52.4 percent of boys, and the gender gap widens as the education ladder goes higher.

Statistics in the country show that Kilifi County in the coastal region of Kenya has the highest prevalence of child marriage with 47.4 percent, followed by Homa Bay County with 38 percent.

Angerer said that while boys are also married as children, child marriage affects girls in greater numbers and with consequences that can be devastating for their health and well- being.

According to Angerer, the girls are usually married to older men and this he said, leads to early and high risk pregnancies.

"Child marriage increases maternal and child mortality and morbidity, put women at increased risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV/AIDS, and curtails girls and women's educational and economic opportunities," he added.

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- Xinhua


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