Early and Forced Marriages: A Violation of Rights of Women and Girls in Kenya

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper discusses the practice of early forced marriages (EFM) within the pastoral communities in Kenya as a violation of the rights of women and girls. The major causes of EFM are poverty, protecting girls from out of wedlock pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, and civil strife in neighboring countries. EFM affects the health, social development, and education of women and girls. It also violates the rights of women and girls to free and full consent to marriage, not to engage in sex, to control reproduction, education, no labor exploitation, and personal freedom. Three competing views on EFM discussed in this paper are traditionalism versus modernization, international law versus local law, and legal age of marriage versus actual age of marriage. Finally, possible solutions and direction on the practice of EFM are suggested.

Vignettes

Case 1 Alemtsehai

When I was 10, my parents arranged for me to marry in the forest. They pretended it was just a party. But it was a wedding and they sent me away. My mother never told me I was going to be married. They came and took me by force. I cried but it didn't make any difference" (Hinshelwood, 2001).

Case 2 Susan Marwa

Sixteen-year-old Susan Marwa was forcefully married off to a "suitor" she did not know when she was only 14. Now a mother of one, Marwa is one of the growing numbers of teenage girls among the Kuria community of Western Kenya who are forced to marry by their parents. Marwa is resigned to fate-pointing out that her community has practiced the tradition for generations. The cattle-keeping Kurias marry off female children, some of whom are as young as 12. Many remain adamant that the tradition is good and "here to stay" (Teenage Marriages - A Most Foul Custom, 1997).

Case 3 Sipinon Sitonyi

Ten-year-old Sipinon Sitonyi from Loita, Narok district, Kenya, was to be circumcised and married off to a 60-year-old man. She is among thirty-eight girls in Narok district who ran away from their homes to escape forced circumcision and is being housed at the town's Full Gospel church. She is likely to miss school (Kipchumba, 2003).

Early and Forced Marriages: A Violation of Rights of Women and Girls in Kenya

This article has five sections related to the practice of early forced marriages (EFM) within the pastoral communities in Kenya: (A) Background information; (B) Prevalence, causes and effects of EFM; (C) EFM as violation of the rights of women and girls; (D) Competing views; and (E) Possible solutions and future directions.

Background Information

The list of burdens that women and girls in Kenya face is endless. They include female genital mutilation, neo slavery, forced early marriages and abduction, child labor, discrimination, child sex tourism, domestic violence, sexual violence, early pregnancy, exposure to HIV/AIDS, and the changing roles in society (Ondiwo, 2002). This article discusses one of these burdens: Early forced marriages-the marriage of girls under the age of 18, and how it violates the rights of women and the girls.

The Inter-Africa Committee on Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children defines early marriage as any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl is physically, physiologically, and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and child bearing (UNICEF, 2001). The practice of EFM is detrimental and cruel because it forces girls into matrimonial beds when they are immature (Maendeleo ya Wanawake, 2000; Stop to Early Marriages, 2000).

The three important occasions in life are birth, marriage, and death. However, an individual makes a choice only in marriage (Hinshelwood, 2001). The right to choose a marriage partner has been established in several international human rights documents. Yet many girls in the pastoral communities of Kenya still enter marriage without any chance of exercising their right of choice. …