For most of the year, Tana River County is hot and dry. But during rainy seasons, short thunderstorms can cause flash floods because the dry, compact soil can’t absorb the water quickly enough. These floods can temporarily displace entire communities, causing confusion and disrupting education.
At 14, Rukia lived near Chifiri Primary School and walked there every day with her siblings and friends. But when the floods came, she and her family had to carry what they could and go to find higher ground. In the transition, an older boy took her back to his community, away from her family, and tried to marry her.
Once her parents figured out what happened, they went with the area chief to track their daughter down. Rukia begged to be able to go back to school, and the boy agreed that their marriage would be ill-timed. She would go back to school, for now.
The rainy season ended, Rukia’s family returned to their home, and she went back to walking to Chifiri Primary. But a seed had been planted in her parents’ minds. In Kenya, when a girl is to be married, her family receives a dowry payment (in Rukia’s community, usually six cows). After losing most of their possessions in the floods and then almost losing their daughter to a stranger, her parents started considering finding Rukia a husband.
They identified a 22 year old young man from their community, and started meeting with his parents to discuss dowry and wedding preparations. As part of the negotiations, the young mans’ family gave a pre-dowry gift of tobacco, which was a symbol of commitment from both parties. The couple was as good as married, until one of the community health volunteers trained by Girl Child Network found out what was going on.
We identify people in each community who are willing and have the time to advocate for girls’ education in their own neighborhoods. We train them and provide them with support so that they can work toward reenrolling girls in school. Mohammed was one such volunteer, and when he heard about the negotiations, he set up a meeting with both sets of parents at the area chief’s office. Mohammed knew from his training with GCN that the law was on the side of Rukia’s education, and he wanted to make sure an early marriage didn’t keep her from accessing this basic right.
According to the Marriage Act of 2014, only people 18 years or older can consent to marriage. In the meeting at the chief’s office, Mohammed was very frank. Not only does the law prohibit the marriage of people under 18, it also allows for the prosecution of anyone who tries to marry a minor. Rukia’s 22 year old suitor was now in hot water. He had to either pay a fine (which he didn’t have the money to pay), or go to jail. After a few tense moments, his father offered to pay the fine on his behalf. The young man breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn’t have to go to jail, and Rukia smiled to herself, knowing she’d be going back to school after all. Everyone left the office with the understanding that both Mohammed and the chief would be following up to make sure Rukia stayed unmarried and in school.
Word quickly spread through the community about what had happened, and people began to realize that Girl Child Network and community health volunteers would be working with the local government to make sure that laws preventing child marriage were enforced. Because they became aware of the consequences, parents were now afraid to agree to the marriage of an underage girl, and instead worked harder to make sure they continued to go to school.
Not only is Rukia now doing well academically, but she has also become a leader in singing and giving presentations to guests at school. She’s confident about continuing to have access to education, and she’s confident in herself!