January 20th 2018

Magazine / Gender Matters

Poverty, teenage pregnancies pushing Nakuru girls into early marriages

"When you look around these areas of Bondeni, Rhonda, Freehold, Langalanga and Kaptembwa you will realize that majority of the underage girls who are already married are from poor families and they got pregnant before getting into marriage,” she said.

By Jackson Okataamboleokata@gmail.comWednesday, 10 Jan 2018 23:01 EAT

Kenya is among the many countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region where teenage marriages have been reported to be high. According to the 2013 Kenya Population Situation Analysis report, many Kenyan teenage Kenyan girls are becoming mothers at very tender ages.

The report placed Kenya among the countries with a high number of adolescent pregnancies globally something which directly contributes to majority of teenage marriages.

Teenage marriage can be defined as a union between two people of the opposite sex where either both are under the age of 18 years of where the girl is under the age of 18 years as it is in most cases.

In Kenya statistics indicate that 26 out of 100 girls get married before reaching the age of 18 years. Teenage marriages are high in slums and urban low-income areas as well as rural areas with high rates being recorded in North Eastern, Coast, Rift valley and Nyanza province.

The Kenyan law is very clear and outlaws teenage or child marriages with the Marriage Act of 2014 in section 4 pegging 18 as the minimum age at which one can be legally allowed to enter a marriage. But despite having laws in place, the rise in the number of teenage marriages shows a clear complacency on the part of policy implementers who should be ensuring that laws are adhered to.

Even though most of the teenage marriages cannot be legally defined as marriages but traditionally in the Kenyan society when a man and woman or when a girl and boy decide to stay together as husband and wife then that is considered as a marriage.

Around the world 158 countries have set the legal minimum age for marriage at 18 years, though implementation of such laws has faced challenges due to traditional and social norms.

In Kenya’s Nakuru county teenage marriages are increasingly being reported in populated urban areas as well as in rural setups where communities still hold onto cultural beliefs of marrying off their girls at tender ages.

There are so many causes which can be attributed child marriages in Kenya with teenage pregnancies topping the list. Across the globe close to 7.3 million of all the reported births are by girls between the age of 15 and 19 years. Out of all these births two million of them are by girls under the age of 15 and 90 per cent of girls giving birth under the age of 15 years are reportedly in marriage. In Kenya 103 in every 1000 reported pregnancies are by girls who are aged between 15 and 19 years.

When a young girl gets pregnant while still in school chances are that she will be forced by her parents to look for the man who is responsible for the pregnancy and this automatically means that the young girl gets married at that tender age.

Many young girls from poor families who get pregnant are forced to drop out of school and with the fear of going back home to their parents such desperate girls end up finding solace in early marriages. Very few Kenyan parents will agree to stay with their daughter who has dropped out of school due to pregnancy.

At 17 years old Agnes Anyango found herself becoming a second wife to a 45 year old man who had impregnated her while on her final year in high school. She says that after sitting her last KCSE paper in 2014 she went straight to where would become her matrimonial home after her father warned her against coming back home with the pregnancy.

Agnes now at 20 years and with her second pregnancy says that she had dreams of studying nursing after high school but her dreams were dashed after she got pregnant and  lucky for her the man responsible agreed to marry her as a second wife.

“I really wanted to become a nurse but that dream was crashed by the pregnancy and I had no option but to get married. At some point I felt as if my future had been taken away from me but again I had to be positive and move on but if God wishes my dream of becoming a nurse will come true one day,” she says.

Agnes says that teenage marriages come with a ray of challenges since most young girls are inexperienced and not psychologically prepared for the task ahead of them and most of them end up being frustrated something she says lead to breaking of most teenage marriages.

“It is not an easy thing for a young girl fresh out of school to get into marriage and run it successfully because such marriages come with a lot of frustrations and most young girls find them unbearable. An underage girl is never psychologically and physically prepared for marriage and this hurts them a lot,” she said

“For me it wasn’t age getting married at the age of 17 and to make it worse being married as a second wife to a man old enough to be my father but I had no choice because I refused the thought of aborting as some relatives had advised me,” she added.

Agnes currently runs an M-PESA shop in Nakuru’s white house estate.

Poverty among Kenyan households is also one among the many contributing factors to teenage marriages in Kenya. In most poor families young girls are the most affected because poverty hinders them accessing education and this places them at the danger of either getting pregnant or getting married at a very tender age.

In most African countries Kenya included parents from Poor families opt to marry off their young daughters with the notion that it will help them reduce the economic burden of educating, feeding and clothing their children. Some get motivated by the bride price being paid by those wanting to marry their daughters.

Mary Njeri a 17-year-old girl in Nakuru’s freehold estate is already in marriage to a 20-year-old young man and has been in marriage for the past one year. She says that she was forced to look for a husband after her parents failed to raise her secondary school fees. She says that she dropped out of school in form two in 2015 at the age of 16 and got married to her boyfriend at the same age.

“My parents could not afford to pay my school fees and I could not sit at home because I had to find ways of surviving and that is how I got into marriage. It is not my wish to get married at that young age but the situation forced me into it," says Mary who already has one child.

Mary says that it pains her to see how poverty pushed her into marriage at that young age something she says she would never wish for any young girl. “If only my parents were rich maybe by now I would be somewhere studying for my degree or diploma but for now that remains a dream and at times it pains me but far from that I wouldn’t wish any young girl to undergo what I went through as a result of poverty,” she says.

Leah Wanyoike a social worker in Nakuru says that most teenage marriages in the county occur in slum areas in the eastern and western parts of Nakuru town where poverty levels are high. She says that teenage pregnancies in these areas are attributed to the poverty levels since most girls who get pregnant at tender ages are from poor families.

Mrs. Wanyoike says that most of the girls who get pregnant at young ages by mistake and most of them never plan for it. She adds that most young girls in these estates agree to have sex with men as the only means of making money to buy basic necessities like sanitary towels and other basic things a girl needs, things she says that most parents do not provide for them.

“Some of these girls get into marriage at young ages because it happens by accident. They get pregnant by accident and these forces them into marriage against their plans but I can say that poverty is to blame for this. When you look around these areas of Bondeni, Rhonda, Freehold, Langalanga and Kaptembwa you will realize that majority of the underage girls who are already married are from poor families and they got pregnant before getting into marriage,” she said.

According to Mrs. Wanyoike 3 out of every 10 marriages happening in low-income areas in Nakuru are teenage marriages{involving girls under the age of 18 years} and 2 out of 10 births at the Bondeni maternity hospital are teenage births[girls between 15 and 17 years}.

Statistics from the Nakuru county culture and social services office show that within the Nakuru town west and Nakuru town east constituencies at least 10 girls under the age of 17 years are reported to drop out of school every year due to pregnancies and 3 out of the 10 end up getting married.  

According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls across the globe will become child brides, According to UNFPA If current levels of child marriages hold then 14.2 million girls will be getting married annually or 39,000 girls getting married daily.

Furthermore, of the 140 million girls who will marry before the age of 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15.  

Worldwide sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia lead the way in teenage marriages. The UN statistics show that In South Asia, nearly half of the young women and more than one third in sub-Saharan Africa are already married by their 18th birthday.

The 10 countries which have recorded the highest numbers of child marriages include Niger at 75 percent Chad and Central African Republic at 68 percent each, Bangladesh at 66 percent Guinea at 63 percent, Mozambique at 56 percent, Mali at 55 percent, Burkina Faso and South Sudan at 52 percent each and Malawi at 50 percent.

The United Nations recognizes child marriage as a violation of the rights of young girls because it denies them the right to pursuing their education, exposes them to the risks of early pregnancy and early childbearing, and motherhood before they are physically and psychologically ready for such tasks as well as Increasing their risk of intimate partner sexual violence as well as HIV infection

The UN says that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 years in developing countries. Of the16 million adolescent girls who give birth every year, about 90 percent are already married.

UNICEF estimates some 50,000 die, almost all in low- and middle-income countries. Stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50 percent higher among mothers under the age of 20 than in women who get pregnant in their 20s.

The writer is contributing reporter for the Kenya Free Press based in Nakuru County

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