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Kenya

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
4%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
23%

* References

* 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)

Photo credit: Landesa

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
4%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
23%

* References

* 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?

23% of Kenyan girls are married before their 18th birthday and 4% are married before the age of 15.

According to UNICEF, Kenya has the 20th highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 527,000.

2014 data shows that women marry at a younger age in Migori and Tana River.

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 also driven by:

  • Poverty: A 2016 UNICEF study shows that some girls are seen as assets, rather than individuals with rights, and can fetch families up to hundreds of goats, cattle, camels and donkeys when married.
  • 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. Marriage is seen to offer the ultimate protection from male sexual attention.
  • Adolescent pregnancy: Child marriage is seen as a safeguard against immoral behaviour. 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.
  • Natural disasters: Drought conditions deteriorated in Kenya in 2017, resulting in 2.6 million food insecure people requiring humanitarian assistance. UNICEF reports that children were at increased risk of being separated from families, dropping out of school and being married off as a survival tactic.
  • Partying: In Bondo and Homabay, the practice of partying at discos after funerals has also been cited as a driver of teenage pregnancy which sees girls drop out of school and seek early marriage.
  • Escape: Some girls enter marriages to escape strict and controlling parents, orphanhood and negligence from carers.
  • Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): In certain communities, such as the Kuria, Maasai, Rendille and Turkana, FGM/C is seen as a sign of readiness for marriage, and generally occurs between the ages of 9 and 17.
  • Traditional customs: 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. Beading is recognised as form of child rape under CEDAW.

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 and 2016 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 Kenya became the 19th country to launch the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.

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.

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.

During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Kenya supported four recommendations to strengthen efforts to eliminate child marriage.

In 2017 the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about the practice of bride price and child marriage in Kenya.

At the Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)

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, (accessed February 2018)

African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013, (accessed February 2018)

Agency for Development Research, A Study on Child Marriage in Kenya, 2011

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Demographic and Health Survey 2014, 2015, (accessed April 2018)

Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa, [website], 2014, (accessed February 2018)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed April 2018)

Plan International, Because I am a girl: Kenya country report 2012, 2013, (accessed April 2018)

Republic of Kenya, National Plan of Action for Children in Kenya 2015-2022, 2015,  (accessed April 2018)

UNICEF, 2017 Mid-Year Humanitarian Situation Report Kenya, 2017, (accessed April 2018)

UNICEF, Family Assets, Understanding and Addressing Child Marriage in Turkana, 2016, (accessed April 2018)

UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the eighth periodic report of Kenya, 2017, p.5, (accessed April 2018)

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Kenya, 2015, p.16, p.17, (accessed April 2018)

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)

* 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