Girls’ Rights are Human Rights – Tackling Child Marriage in Kenya Poverty Leads to Child Marriage
Joyce* got married young; way too young.
She was 14 and illiterate. She had only gone as far as class 4 in primary school when she met the 'man of her innocent dreams'.
Before clocking her 14, her husband abused her sexually – not once but several times, in order to force the hand of his would be in-laws, to prevail on him to marry her. He need not have gone that far because Joyce's parents were too poor and had planned to marry her off to anyone who asked, anyway.
Her father even had the guts to congratulate his future son in law for sampling the goods before buying them.
In a flash, Joyce was married off to this brute of a man who used her as a sex slave, warning her against using any contraceptives. He shouldn't have bothered; his naive wife never knew what those were.
Six Babies in Six Years
Every year, for six consecutive years, Joyce gave birth to a brand new baby, and her husband never waited for her to heal from the effects of childbirth before demanding his conjugal rights.
Three days were all he allowed her.
Unfortunately for Joyce, all of her six children were girls – a fact that must have contributed to her husband's excessive misuse of her body to beget a son, since daughters are frowned upon in rural Western Kenya.
Infant Mortality and Still-Births
Joyce gave birth to her seventh daughter, the only child whose birth was a year apart from the others, and who unfortunately died at 2 years old due to malnutrition.
Her husband succeeded in his bid to father a son, the eighth and ninth births. They were both stillbirths for which he blamed Joyce, and to punish her, raped her the same day she lost eighth baby.
Fistula Resulting from Rape
He was so violent that he tore her apart, which resulted in her suffering from fistula. Worse is the fact that instead of getting her medical attention – being the bully he was, he blamed her for her condition.
Two Decades On
Joyce's first born daughter is 21 years old now, but has been repeating her classes every year, with the hope that her parents would get her and her sisters birth certificates with which to register their final primary school exams and venture forth.
No Birth Certificate Means No Education
It is a sad affair that this has happened because Joyce does not have a national identity card, at 36 years of age – which no one reminded her to seek when she turned 18. Without a copy, no birth certificate can be issued, meaning no education for her children, since the government has for the last few years made it mandatory that no pupil can register for the final year of school without one.
Awareness-raising is Crucial
Men need to be taught to respect their women, regardless of their age, and to shun child brides, which is in most cases detrimental to their siring healthy children, who, if carried to term, end up being born with congenital malformations growing up with birth defects and disorders just because they are being raised by an inexperienced child, too – their mother.
Education, Healing and Empowerment for Joyce!
Malkia Foundation took Joyce's kids in and enrolled them in our programs for quality education.
We approached the authorities who wrote us the letter we took to the registrar of persons, and can now report that Joyce has already been issued with an identity card, together with her three daughters who are also adults now, and her children all have birth certificates!
Now they don't need to worry about repeating classes. Same authorities have been very instrumental in ensuring that Joyce no longer suffers domestic violence.
Better yet, Joyce joined the Malkia Foundation project's Women's Health program and is well on her way to getting cured of Fistula.
She is now no longer the timid girl of yesteryear, but empowered enough to fight for her rights.
Village Elders Court
Joyce is still with her husband and almost cured of her fistula, except for her emotional pain.
I reported the matter to the local village elders' court, who had the bully arrested and thrown in the cells for two weeks, where he got the beating of his life from his fellow men and police alike for what he made his wife go through.
Joyce is so compassionate, but her pleas to have him released after only a few days fell on deaf ears as the police wanted to teach him how it felt being beaten up without being able to fight back, until he swore never to abuse her ever again.
It is a small village – and like all bullies, this guy is afraid of facing men his own size in a fight.
It is almost a year now, and Joyce has been slowly blooming after a minor surgery; she is cleaner, can retain her urine and thank God a living example of what not to do to women in any community.
She is, however, still so terrified of her husband, who she says she can't leave because of her seven children – one, a stepson.
I am comforted that she joined one of our Malkia Education programs in adult literacy, and is now training to be a tailor while she manages a small vegetable garden business, which had previously been denied her by her husband.
The best news is that Joyce went to the local District hospital, and without being coerced, sought tubal ligation, and is now happy to raise her daughters without fear of pregnancy.
It took me four months to get her approval to do this, and it was my assurance that many more Joyces in her former place would benefit from her story.
We are still working on her self-esteem.
She has taught me to appreciate life and the little pleasures that come with it.
I believe she is a woman to watch.
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*Joyce's name has been changed to protect her identity.The Path to Participation Initiative from World Pulse and No Ceilings