The economic and social crisis caused by the Corona pandemic has led to an increase in child marriage cases in Kenya, says writer Stephanie Sinclair in a report published by the American newspaper “nytimes”; There is a pandemic in rural Kenya that is no less dangerous than the Covid-19 pandemic, as curfews, quarantine and closures have exacerbated the economic and social crises, which negatively affected efforts to combat child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Jacinta gets married at 10 years old
Among the girls who were forced into early marriage is the child Jacinta, who is only 10 years old, and her family chose her as a husband she had never met.
The girl was taken from her home in Samburu County early one morning last August, and placed in a mixture of milk and water, before being decorated in red in preparation for the circumcision ceremony, a tradition followed in Samburu before girls marry.
Jacinta says she did not know at first that she was going to marry, but when she was circumcised, she realized that the marriage was imminent.
Cases increase during the pandemic
The author asserts that the data and figures related to child marriage and “genital mutilation” (circumcision) in Kenya during the epidemic period are not documented. Even before that, it was difficult to obtain accurate data on child marriage rates; It is rare to report such cases, which contravene Kenyan laws that prohibit underage marriage and female genital mutilation.
According to the author, the spread of the Corona virus paved the way for the increase in the cases of child marriage and the circumcision ceremonies that precede it, especially as this provides the families of girls with money, some livestock, blankets and food.
According to calls recorded from March to September through the Kenya Child Protection Hotline, rates of sexual violence against girls rose by 230% after schools closed last spring. And since tens of thousands of girls do not have access to the hotline, or do not know they can call for help, the numbers are likely to be much higher, the author says.
Raising the rest of the family
Naiko (15 years old) was in a boarding school that provides girls with important support after finishing school, and when the school closed last spring, she was forced to return home; She found her family starving.
“Sometimes we get hungry and we don’t find clothes to wear, which is why our mother decided to marry us in order to get the money to raise the rest of the family,” says Naiko.
For his part, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to eliminate child marriage by the end of 2020, and circumcision by 2022, but converting these optimistic statements into a tangible reality is very difficult, even without the Corona pandemic, according to the author.
Fear of minors
President Kenyatta backtracked on some of his pledges last July to crack down on clinics providing contraceptives for underage girls, saying it encouraged mixing, the author said.
Experts are concerned that the fear of minors will lead to the social and economic consequences of pregnancy, as well as the closure of clinics and the prevention of the circulation of abortion pills; This increases unsafe abortions.
The author says that what girls are exposed to in rural communities in Kenya – through forcing them to marry and give birth – deprives them of their rights to safety, health and education.
Girls who survived these traumas – according to the author – need financial support, health, reproductive and psychological care, and the necessary resources to return to school, and the authorities are required to prosecute those responsible for these marriages.
Before the Corona epidemic, a minor girl was forced to marry every two seconds across the world, and with the continued increase of cases of Covid-19, the United Nations says that 13 million additional child marriages take place over the next decade; As a result of several factors, including the suspension of many educational programs due to the stifling economic crisis.
In this context, the author calls for the need to allocate more funds to stop this phenomenon all over the world, including activating accountability and law enforcement mechanisms. To reinforce the commitment to protecting girls, the United States must make its domestic laws in line with its global discourse, by activating the federal ban on genital mutilation and enacting strict laws that prohibit child marriage, the writer says.