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Teenage marriages - A most foul custom

by a Correspondent (643 words)

The Catholic Church is helping fight the scourge of teenage girl marriages in Kenya's western province. But it is a culture that is going to take long to root out as recent experience shows

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 a growing number of teenage girls among the Kuria community of western Kenya who are forced to marry by their parents.

Marwa is resigned to her fate - pointing out that her community has practised the tradition since time immemorial. The cattle-keeping Kurias marry of female children some of whom are as young as 12. Many remain adamant that the tradition is good and "here to stay" but the Kenyan government is taking a very dim view of forced marriages.

A government official in Kuria recently rescued five girls who had been plucked from a classroom to be forcefully married. The official told Africanews that in most cases, the affected school children are primary school children.

"It is unfortunate that while other communities are discarding traditions that drag down their socio-economic development, the Kuria community still embraces the custom of marrying off their children. It is something that should be stopped because it denies the girls child the right to education."

After realising that the Kenyan government was taking stringent measures on parents engaging their children in forced marriages, some members of the community often cross into neighbouring Tanzania where they perform the marriage rituals before crossing back to Kenya.

The Kenya government has outlawed forced teenage marriages and its perpetrators can be jailed.

What makes teenage marriages especially appalling is that it burdens the young girls with responsibilities that they are ill-prepared for. This include child bearing and the concomitant hustles of taking care of children.

The culture has been a detriment to the girl child and as a result fewer girls have the urge to continue with their education as they will be married off before they complete their education. The future of girls among the Kuria in the district remains bleak unless the culture is done away with.

Educationists warn that early marriages hurt the girls child's chances of economic independence because they are stopped from continuing with their education.

A Catholic Bishop, Linus Okok who ministers mainly to the Kuria says the church is trying to discourage the practice among the Kuria so that they do not undermine girls' education.

"Girls have should equal opportunity to education like their male counterparts. Otherwise early marriages among Kuria community only deters the community's development", said Bishop Okok adding that the Church had started a girls school in the district.

Having realised that the problem of "teenage marriages" was affecting the girl child education, he has made it compulsory for all the parishes within his diocese to build a school for girls.

"To ensure that girls to go to school we have launched campaign against child marriages and have made it on of our resolutions to build schools in all the parishes for girls" said the Prelate.

Mr. John Oberi, a social worker who has lived among the community for more than three years says that the community practises the tradition because they are interested in getting wealth. He said that it is difficult to marry a Kuria because they demand a large number of cattle as dowry.

Joannes Chacha Marwa who is a local politician in Kuria district says that the problem is caused be abject poverty among the community. He argues that because of poverty there is rampant cattle rustling in the area and some parents find it safe to marry off their daughters to compensate for their stolen herd.

He says a lasting solution to the community's problem is to encourage teachers from other parts of the country who do not practice the same traditions be encouraged to teach in Kuria schools", because even teachers who are Kurias do not seem to see it as a problem".


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