Photo credit: Landesa
Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
3% of boys in Kenya are married before the age of 18.
Kenya has the 18th highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world – 580,000.
Child marriage rates in Kenya vary across regions and among ethnic groups. Child marriage is most common in Northern Kenya (56%), followed by the Coast Province (41%) and Nyanza (32%).
According to a 2017 UNICEF study, 64% of girls of Pokot origin got married before reaching the age of 18, followed by 54% of Rendille girls, 38% Somali girls and 28% of Maasai girls. 38% of Pokot boys and 14% of Somali boys got married before reaching the age of 18.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In Kenya, child marriage is exacerbated by:
- Poverty: Girls living in poor households are twice as likely to marry under the age of 18 as girls in higher income households. A 2016 UNICEF study shows that girls are often seen as assets or as an economic burden, rather than individuals with rights. Fathers from the most impoverished communities will arrange the marriage of their daughters in exchange for a bride wealth that can compromised cattle, camels and donkeys.
- Level of education: Plan reports that Kenyan girls who drop out of school for any reason are more likely to end up married. Some parents reportedly withdraw girls from school and marry them off as soon as they menstruate.
- Harmful traditional practices: Within the Samburu community, beading is a harmful traditional practice whereby a close family relative will approach a girl’s parents with red Samburu beads and place the necklace around the girl’s neck. This signifies a temporary engagement of the relative and the girl, and the relative can then have sex with her. Some girls are “beaded” as young as 6 years old and it is estimated that three in four girls in the 8-12 age group are beaded. Beading is recognised as form of child rape under CEDAW.
- Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): While the national prevalence of FGM/C is 21%, in some communities it is near universal. For the Kuria, Maasai, Rendille and Turkana people FGM/C is seen as a sign of readiness for marriage, and generally occurs between the ages of 9 and 17. Girls who have undergone FGM attract a higher bride price compared to those who don’t.
- Adolescent pregnancy: Child marriage is seen as a safeguard against immoral behaviour and the ultimate protection from male sexual attention. A 2012 Plan study shows that parents in Kilifi and Kwale married off pregnant daughters to protect their family status and name, and to receive both dowry and a “penalty” payment from the man responsible for the pregnancy. Children are respected more when their mother is married, and become ng’ide awi (children of the home) rather than ng’ide akeor (children of the field). Among Kuria communities, young pregnant girls are sometimes married off to older women who cannot bear sons, in a tradition known as Nyumba boke.
- Poor law enforcement: While the Children’s Act prohibits child marriage, authorities do not see it as their job to prevent it. Birth and marriage registration are rarely produced or verified at the point of marriage. Cases of child marriage taken to court for prosecution are delayed or not completed because of corruption. Community and religious leaders also resist the enforcement of the law.
- Escape: Some girls enter marriages to escape strict and controlling parents, orphanhood and negligence from carers.
Humanitarian settings can encompass a wide range of situations before, during, and after natural disasters, conflicts, and epidemics. They exacerbate poverty, insecurity, and lack of access to services such as education, factors which all drive child marriage. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and crisis contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. Kenya suffers erratic weather conditions, including droughts and floods, which causes loss of lives, cropland, livestock and property, and hampers access to food.
- Natural disasters and climate change: Drought conditions deteriorated in Kenya in 2017, resulting in 6 million food insecure people requiring humanitarian assistance. UNICEF reported that children were at increased risk of being separated from families, dropping out of school and being married off as a survival tactic. According to Maasai girls’ rights activists prolonged droughts prompt many families to give away young girls as brides in exchange for cattle. The long walk in search of water also exposes young girls to sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies, which may in turn initiate an early marriage.
- Displacement: As of November 2019, Kenya hosted nearly half a million refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – countries with high prevalence of child marriage. While we lack concrete evidence of child marriage taking place in Kenyan refugee camps, available literature indicates that displacement increases girls’ vulnerability to child marriage due to the breakdown of social networks, the lack of protection systems and the increased risk of sexual violence.
What has this country committed to?
Kenya has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government did not provide an update on progress towards this target during its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum.
Kenya co-sponsored the 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Kenya signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Kenya ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2017 the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about the practice of bride price and child marriage in Kenya.
During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Kenya supported four recommendations to strengthen efforts to eliminate child marriage.
In 2000 Kenya ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.
In 2010 Kenya ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
In 2017 Kenya became the 19th country to launch the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
Kenya is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
Kenya is one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
Kenya is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
The National Plan of Action for Children in Kenya (2015-2022) acknowledges that child marriage leads to physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children and that public awareness targeting barazas (community meetings), families and children is important.
The National Plan against Sexual Exploitation of Children in Kenya (2018-2022) recognises child marriage as a harmful practice that contributes to child sexual abuse and exploitation, and it envisions activities to engage men as community champions in reducing child marriage.
In October 2016, the Gender Department and Anti-FGM Board within the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender led the development of a draft National Plan of Action on Child Marriage. This process involved Girls Not Brides members, and consultations led by UNICEF Kenya are continuing. However, as of 2020 this National Plan is not finalised.
UNICEF Kenya and the Australian High Commission organised a Stakeholders Meeting on Child Marriage in November 2017, where the #ENDChildMarriageKE campaign was launched.
Kenya is one of the Phase II focus countries of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C (2018–2021).
District Probation Offices are active within several areas of Kenya and are responsible for rehabilitating child marriage survivors, investigating cases of child marriage, making recommendations to relevant authorities and sensitising communities on the consequences of child marriage.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
Under the Marriage Act 2014 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years with no exceptions.
In addition, the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act, 2010 classifies child labour, child marriage and sexual exploitation as forms of exploitation.
African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, https://www.achpr.org/legalinstruments/detail?id=46 (accessed January 2020).
African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, https://au.int/en/treaties/protocol-african-charter-human-and-peoples-rights-rights-women-africa (accessed January 2020).
African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013, https://au.int/sites/default/files/pages/32905-file-campaign_to_end_child_marriage_in_africa_call_for_action-_english.pdf (accessed January 2020).
Agency for Development Research, A Study on Child Marriage in Kenya, 2011
European Commission, Kenya, [website], 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/echo/where/africa/kenya_en (accessed February 2020).
Girls Not Brides, Child marriage in humanitarian settings, 2018, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Child-marriage-in-humanitarian-settings.pdf (accessed February 2020).
Global Partnership for Education, Kenya, [website], https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/kenya (accessed February 2020).
Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Demographic and Health Survey 2014, 2015, https://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR308/FR308.pdf (accessed January 2020).
Marriage Act, 2014, https://data.unicef.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/The-MARRIAGE-ACT-2014_Kenya.pdf (accessed February 2020).
Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern African, [website], 2014, https://www.youngpeopletoday.org/esa-commitment/ (accessed January 2020).
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, http://fngeneve.um.dk/en/aboutus/statements/newsdisplaypage/?newsid=6371ad93-8fb0-4c35-b186-820fa996d379 (accessed February 2020).
Ministry of Labour And Social Protection, National Plan against Sexual Exploitation of Children in Kenya (2018-2022), 2018, http://www.anppcan.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/NPA-against-SEC-Kenya-2018-2022.pdf (accessed February 2020).
Minority Rights, Kenya: ‘The impact of climate change is worsening the situation of child marriage among the Maasai.’, [website], https://minorityrights.org/kenya-the-impact-of-climate/ (accessed February 2020).
OCHA, Kenya, [website], https://www.unocha.org/southern-and-eastern-africa-rosea/kenya (accessed February 2020).
Plan International, Because I am a girl: Kenya country report 2012, 2013, http://www.plcc-nairobi.org/xist4c/download/web/Because-I-am-a-girl–Kenya-Country-Report-2012_uplId_16865__coId_3901_.pdf (accessed January 2020).
Republic of Kenya, National Plan of Action for Children in Kenya 2015-2022, 2015, http://www.childrenscouncil.go.ke/images/documents/Policy_Documents/National-Plan-of-Action-for-Children-in-Kenya-2015.pdf (accessed April 2018)
U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, [website], 2019, https://www.state.gov/where-we-work-pepfar/ (accessed February 2020).
UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the eighth periodic report of Kenya, 2017, p.5, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/KEN/CO/8&Lang=En (accessed February 2020).
UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Kenya, 2015, p.16, p.17, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/KEIndex.aspx (accessed April 2020).
UN General Assembly, National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21. Kenya, 2019, https://undocs.org/A/HRC/WG.6/35/KEN/1 (accessed 2020).
UNHCR, Kenya Statistics Package, November 2019, https://www.unhcr.org/ke/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/12/Kenya-Statistics-Package-30-November-2019.pdf (accessed February 2020).
UNICEF DATA, Percentage of girls and women aged 15-49 years who have undergone FGM (by place of residence and household wealth quintile), February 2020, https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/female-genital-mutilation/ (accessed February 2020).
UNICEF, 2017 Mid-Year Humanitarian Situation Report Kenya, 2017, https://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Kenya_Mid_Year_Humanitarian_Situation_Report_June_2017.pdf (accessed February 2020).
UNICEF, Baseline Study Report: Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting and Child Marriage among the Rendille, Maasai, Pokot, Samburu and Somali Communities in Kenya, 2017, https://www.unicef.org/kenya/media/531/file/Kenya-0000074.pdf.pdf (accessed February 2020).
UNICEF, Family Assets. Understanding and Addressing Child Marriage in Turkana, 2016, https://www.girlsnotbrides.es/wp-content/uploads//2016/08/UNICEF-Kenya-Family-Assets-in-Turkana-Kenya-Feb-2016.pdf (accessed February 2020).
UNICEF global databases 2020, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), and other national surveys. Population data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. Rev. 1. (accessed April 2020).
UNICEF, Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Kenya 2017, 2018, https://www.unicef.org/kenya/media/136/file/SITAN-report-2017-pdf.pdf (accessed February 2020).
UNICEF, UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation,[website], https://www.unicef.org/protection/unfpa-unicef-joint-programme-eliminating-fgm (accessed February 2020).
United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (accessed February 2020).
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
Members In Kenya
- Action for Behavioural Change (ABC)
- Africa Capacity Alliance (ACA)
- African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative (AGCDSI)
- African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)
- Akili Dada
- Amref Health Africa
- Angelic Kids Foundation
- Asante Africa Foundation (AAF)
- Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK)
- Boxgirls Kenya (BGK)
- Chepngoror Education Foundation
- Child Aid Organization Kenya (CAOK)
- Coexist Initiative
- Daughters of Kenya
- Dear Little Sister Foundation
- Empiris Emakat Women Group
- Frontier Indigenous Network (FIN)
- Garden of Hope Foundation
- Generation Guiders CBO (G.G)
- Girlkind Kenya
- Green Oasis Lens (GOAL)
- Hekima Place
- Hope Beyond Foundation (HOPE)
- Hossanah FP Education Centre
- Humanity for Orphans, Youth and Widows Initiatives Kenya (HOYWIK)
- Inspire Enkerai Kenya
- Integrated Development Africa Programme
- International Centre for Reproductive Health
- Inua Girls Group (IGG)
- Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE)
- Kenya Muslim Youth Development Organization (KMYDO)
- Kenya Works
- Kitenikinae Community Based Organization (KICOBO)
- Laini Saba Project Centre & Home Care (LAPCA)
- Maasai Girls Education Fund
- Marakwet Girls Foundation
- Margaret Wanzu Foundation
- Marsabit Women Advocacy and Development Organization (MWADO)
- Matungu Community Development Charity (MCDC)
- Men End FGM
- Mission with a Vision (MWV)
- Msichana Empowerment Kuria
- Mtoto News
- Murua Girl Child Education Program
- Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA)
- Nyanza Initiative for Girls’ Education & Empowerment (NIGEE)
- Olmarei Lang Self Help Organisation
- Pastoralist Girls Initiative (PGI)
- Pastoralist Journalists Network-Kenya (PAJAN)
- Population Council
- Porridge and Rice
- Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI)
- Samaritan Africa (SAMAF)
- Samburu Girls Foundation
- Seeds to Sew International
- Shepherd of Life Organization (SOL-Kenya)
- Silan Foundation
- Solwodi Ladies Sports Association (SOLASA)
- Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative (TNI)
- The Centre for the Study of Adolescence (CSA)
- The East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights)
- VSO International
- We World Kenya Foundation
- Yaya Education Trust
- Youth Horizons
- Zamara Foundation