Few weeks ago, while at Musenke primary school, I got a chance to interact and mentor about three hundred girls who were undergoing an Alternative Rites of Passage commonly known as ARPs, a program by AMREF Health Africa. My visit to Musenke brought me nigh to the reality of child/forced marriage.
Amina*, 14 years old narrowly escaped forced marriage to a 45 year old man. Amina was only 12 years old. Her close friend, Naserian*, 15 years escaped jaws of Female Genital Cutting and subsequent marriage at the age of 9.
Amina’s charming smile caught my attention. I instantly fell in love with her confidence coupled with her intelligence. On interacting with her, her smile proved to conceal distress that she underwent two years ago. With consent from AMREF Health Africa and Amina’s main guardian, I got a chance to interview her.
2013, Amina sat for her primary school final exams and emerged best girl from her class and district as well. She desired to join a secondary school to pursue her dream of becoming a Television Anchor. Her dreams were almost shuttered when her impoverished father secretly arranged her marriage to a man four times her age.
She got a wind of the planned marriage through her brother who eavesdropped to a conversation between his father and a neighbor. Amina was to be traded in the following day for a few cows that were to be sold to raise money for his elder brother’s school fee. (Amina’s mother passed on three years ago).
That night, Amina was unable to sleep. It was about midnight, she had few hours remaining to become a child bride, a wife with new responsibilities that she could not imagine herself performing! She instantaneously planned her escape.
She tiptoed across the room, careful not to wake up any soul. Cautiously, she opened the door, closed it silently and took off at a ‘leopard’s speed’. She waved through thorny bushes oblivious of the danger she was putting herself through (here, wild animals are known to hunt for goats at this hour), the orchestra of the chirping insects giving her rhythm to sprint even faster. The breezy full moon night supplying her with just enough light to easily locate her elder half-sister’ house, which was about 5 Km away.
In roughly 20 minutes, she arrived, flinging her door wide open. She landed on the floor with a huge thud panting, sweating and slightly bleeding from body parts that had been pricked by thorns. Her sister woke up with a loud piercing scream. Amina quickly identified herself; Through gasps, she narrated her tribulation.
Her loving sister was very concerned. She happened to be an elementary school teacher at the same school that Amina attended. The following morning, she reported the matter to the schools’ management and what followed was a series of demonstrations and marches by her schoolmates and teachers. They marched to various offices including the Area Chief, Police Station, District Education Office, and Provincial Administration demanding for immediate action to be taken to spare Amina from the imminent arranged marriage.
Amina’s father was quite belligerent citing that his decision was final. He located her, went for her, dragged her and locked her in the house. He threatened that he would harm her and curse her if she attempted to escape again.
Activities in Musenke village came to a stand-still for three consecutive days. During the day, women could be seen gathering in small groups and talking in low tones. Men left the village in pretense of search for pasture for their livestock. School children tirelessly sang and chanted ‘No Marriage for Amina!, No marriage for Amina!’ At this time, Amina was drafting her suicide note.
Just before Amina could take away her life, the police stormed her house and rescued her. Her unmoved father was arrested and remanded for a few days. Amina was now running late to join secondary school. Luckily she was awarded a full bursary though a community development fund program. She was enrolled to Kiserian Girls High School. She is currently in form two pursuing her dream.
Amina has never stepped back home except when the Nation Television crew and I was conducting this interview. When schools close, she stays at her sisters’ place.
She graduated from the ARP program, a training program that helped her transition to adulthood without undergoing FGM. Amina is so far safe from FGM and Child Marriage.
Her friend Naserian ran away from home and sought refuge at a rescue centre in Narok, miles away from Musenke. Her parents are yet to find her.
Amina and Naserian represent a fraction of thousands of girls in Kenya who are at high risk of undergoing FGM and early/forced marriage; cultures that are robbing them off their dreams.
Abandonment of child marriages and FGM is pertinent to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Goals on education, Health, ending poverty and hunger as well as achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.