The girl-child in the Maasai community in Kenya has for decades suffered many odds in life which have had both devastating and negative effects on her life as a human. From the time this child is 8 years old she ceases being treated as a child who needs care and protection from parents/guardians and the community at large and is instead treated as an “adult woman” who is ready for marriage. It is at this age that mothers/parents secretly organize for their daughters’ female genital mutilation or circumcision, a practice which the community believes ushers the young girls into womanhood and makes them ready for marriage. The practice thus puts to an end this young child’s aspiration to go to school and to make meaningful contribution to her society.
Violence against women and girls remains a grave and persistent problem in Kenya today. The result of this is human suffering, degradation and humiliation. This in turn engenders a sense of fear and insecurity among the victims, increasing their vulnerability and dependence. The overall effect is that their potential remains unrealized and their energies are stifled as violence prevents women and girls from participating fully in family life and community and society at large.
This project seeks to expose and address the discrimination and retrogressive practices by the Maasai people against the girl-child in Kajiado County in Kenya. In this part of the country, some socio-cultural practices have continued to inhibit the development of girl-children, particularly their performance in education. In this County, for instance, the situation of the girl-child is informed by forced and early marriages, “unwanted” pregnancies, and low levels of education caused by poor transition rates particularly from primary level to secondary level, among other issues. In the year 2016, the Centre for Law and Research International (CLARION) undertook a research in Kajiado County in order to understand the magnitude of the problem that the girl-child in this community faces. The following are the highlights of the findings of the research. They bring out the factors which affect the education of the girl-child as well as violate her rights as a human being:
- There is generally low enrollment of girls in schools in the county since the community favors educating the boy child over the girl child. Enrollment and retention of girls in school is best in lower primary level i.e. between class 1 and 4 but many of them begin dropping out from class 5 onward due to poverty, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or circumcision, pregnancy and early marriages.
- There is low value attached to the girl child and as such most parents pay school fees for boys before they pay for the girls and if funds are not enough the girl child is withdrawn from school to enable the boy child to go on.
- The community largely practices female genital mutilation after which the young girls (ages 8 – 13) are married off for bride price, especially where parents are poor. The girls, who are forced into such marriages, if not rescued, usually drop out of school. Due to FGM, girls who are circumcised secretly suffer serious loss of blood and some have died from excessive bleeding after being circumcised by the traditional practitioners in the bush.
- The community encourages girls to engage in sex immediately after they have been circumcised as they are viewed as “grown-ups” and therefore ready for marriage. Also, due to the permissiveness of the community on issues of sex, mothers are known to vacate their Manyattas (traditional huts) for their unmarried daughters to engage with their boyfriends or male suitors during the day and sometimes they allow them to sleep together during the night. This practice leads to lots of early pregnancies among the girls and hence large numbers drop out of school. (A report done by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2017 on the high rate of teenage pregnancies in Kenya indicates that between July 2016 and June 2017, 40% of the teenagers in Narok County (one of the counties where the Maasai live) became pregnant).
- Most girls view themselves as ready for marriage immediately after being circumcised and therefore lose interest in their studies thinking that all they need in life is a man to marry them. This problem is compounded by the marked lack of concern by parents on their children’s performance and progress in school.
- There is failure by the would be whistle blowers like teachers, village elders, community leaders, local administration officers in raising alarm when cases of forced/arranged marriages or FGM occur.
- Most girls have to commute very far to attend school. There are many cases of defilement which occur as the young girls are way-laid and attacked as they go to school early in the morning or as they return home late in the evening. Due to poverty, some of the girls are lured into sex when on their way to or from school by men using cheap gifts like food items. During our research we came across a case where 1 man had lured and defiled 13 girls from one primary school and no action had been taken against him. The law enforcement agents like chiefs at the grassroots are sometimes compromised by girls’ parents or other community members and as such many cases of defilement are never reported for proper follow-up and litigation.
- Child labor is rampant in the County, with cases of young girls herding or being employed as domestic workers in order to fend for their families.
- Ignorance on the value of educating a girl, which is enhanced by the patriarchal nature of the Maasai culture is a major problem. Most parents (even rich ones) are either illiterate or do not understand the importance and value of educating their children.
- Due to poverty some parents ignore the needs of the girl child, like providing sanitary pads and neat clean school uniform. Therefore, girls from such families are embarrassed in school and opt to drop out. In some cases, when such girls get a few sanitary pads, they use them and wash in order re-use them, a practice that can lead to serious genital infections.
- There is ignorance of the law in the community, especially the Children’s Act, which leads to silence and imagination that reporting cases of defilement/rape is expensive. About 95% of cases of girl child violations are never reported.
Through this intervention therefore we aim to address the socio-cultural factors that lead to discrimination and violence against the girl-child in Kajiado County and which in turn inhibit the education of this child. We shall:
- Undertake intensive awareness creation that will positively impact the attitudes of the community on the girl-child. Awareness campaigns will be undertaken on the rights of the child and the Children’s Act, the factors that affect girl-child education, effects of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and alternative rites of passage within the community, among other important topics;
- In liaison with the Children’s Department at the County level, NGOs, local administrators, parents and teachers associations and other agencies and stakeholders we shall undertake intensive advocacy campaigns towards the education of girls like re-admission into schools after cases of pregnancy and child delivery, expansion of educational facilities particularly boarding facilities in the county;
- Work towards increasing the reporting of cases of girl-child rights violations/abuses and prosecution of the same through the establishment of a legal aid fund. The campaign will also target to work with community groups to unearth cases of FGM and early/forced marriages and bring those involved to face the law;
- Lobby the county government to sponsor girls from poor backgrounds to attend school as well as provide free medical care for all children who are defiled;
- Start a mentorship programme for girls where role models will be able to influence the younger girls in ways that will improve their performance in school.
- Provide sanitary towels to girls from poor families as part of the campaign to keep them in school during their menses.
The ultimate measures of success for this intervention are:
(i) Reduced discrimination of the girl-child and improved realization of her human rights; and
(ii) Improved access to education as a right by the girl-child.
Please note: In the attached photo, the second person from the left is a very young girl in Kajiado County who was rescued from an early marriage after her father forged her birth certificate, changing her age from 13 to 20 years and then marrying her off to an old man.