When their families aren’t able to take care of their basic needs, girls often turn to older male “sponsors” to fill the gaps. But gifts from sponsors usually come with strings attached. At 14 and in Standard 4, Jane found herself in a place where she didn’t know if she would even be able to continue going to school.
The second-born of 14 children in rural Kajiado County, Jane was often forgotten by her father, who preferred the children of his other wives. She and her mother’s other children were not always given the fees and uniforms they needed to attend school, so they missed days, weeks, and even years of class at a time.
When Jane began menstruating, she didn’t know what was happening. Thinking something was wrong with her, she felt ashamed and embarrassed. She used old clothes to absorb the blood and pretended to have painful stomach pains so that she’d have an excuse to stay at home.
When she went back to school, Jane asked her deskmate Mary about the bleeding. Mary told her that bleeding was normal, but that she should get sanitary towels and continue coming to school when she was on her period. Jane knew she didn’t have money to buy sanitary towels, but Mary told her not to worry. Mary got her sanitary towels for “free” from a shopkeeper, and he had a friend who might buy them for Jane.
The shopkeeper’s friend John began buying Jane sanitary towels, panties, and painkillers for her cramps. He made sure she had what she needed so that she could be in school every day of the month. Jane was happy to be in school full time, but after eight months, John decided he wanted to marry her, and right away. Jane said she wanted to wait, so that she could finish school and become a teacher.
Jane had been hiding John’s gifts from her parents, but he went and told them that he had already been providing for her for months, and wanted to continue taking care of her, but as her husband. Jane’s father agreed. Jane’s mother didn’t. Her oldest daughter was married at 17, and had been struggling to support a husband and children since then. Jane’s mother wanted a different kind of life for Jane.
The mother’s brother found out what was going on, and snuck them out to the Girl Child Network office one Saturday. He had seen Girl Child Network leading peaceful demonstrations supporting girls’ education, and he hoped that we would be able to help Jane stay in school.
At the office, our staff gave Jane two pairs of panties and a deworming tablet as she explained her situation. “I had a clean heart and thought James was one of the angels sent by God to support poor girls like me. I did not know he would try to become my husband.”
The staff introduced the family to the District Children’s Officer (DCO) for Kajiado, and helped them retell their story. The DCO called Jane’s father and John, and let them know that they would be arrested if they continued planning the wedding. Because Jane’s mother and uncle now knew the DCO, if they found out wedding plans were being made again, they would be able to report the men and protect Jane.
Jane’s plans to become a teacher are now possible again: “I want to continue with my studies and become a teacher because my teachers have encouraged me so much in my studies.”