Fatuma Kwekwe is a smart, confident girl with a contagious smile. But the confidence has not come easy. At only 16 years of age, her father has tried to marry her off twice and deny her education.
Her first escape from a forced marriage happened when she was 10 years old. Her father received dowry from a man unknown to her when she was in Standard Three in Mtwapa.
With a deep desire to get an education, she ran away, seeking refuge at her grandmother’s home, who took her to school.
The second man came to claim Kwekwe as his wife when she was in Standard Five. Her grandmother Ms. Dama Tsuma said she had to threaten her son-in-law twice by getting him arrested after his attempts to marry off her granddaughter in exchange for cattle so as “he becomes rich.”
“He took cattle and money from his friend when Kwekwe was in Class Three,” she said.
“In Kwale, parents sell off their daughters. They do not educate them. A 10-year-old girl is supposed to be at her husband’s place,” said Tsuma, who never went to school but values education.
Ever since she left her home, seven years ago, Kwekwe has not visited her parents as her father still disagrees with her pursuing education.
When her grandmother took her in, she enrolled her at Havilah Academy in Class One at 10 years.
The Head Teacher of Havilah Academy, Eric Kai said Kwekwe was disciplined and focused on her education that he waived her school fees from Class One to Class Eight.
At one point, he had to involve the police when Kwekwe’s father tried to force her out of school at Standard Five to marry her off.
Luckily, Kwekwe performed so well, and scored 400 marks in Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination and was offered a place at Butere Girls’ High School.
But her grandmother, now sick and unable to do her food business, could not afford the Sh60, 000 school fees.
Since schools opened in August, Kwekwe was unable to report to school. However, recently a philanthropist came to her rescue after the media highlighted her story. A well-wisher, Samir Bhaloo offered to cater for Kwekwe school needs until she completes her secondary education and provide money to buy school uniforms and other necessities.
The Mombasa Cement Officer, Mr. Samir Bhaloo at the same time called upon leaders at the coast to help address cases of early marriages and poor families facing education challenges for children to enjoy their rights to education. Kwekwe’s dream is to become a doctor.
Child marriage is still a serious problem in Kenya where the law prohibits minors from marrying under any circumstance. Kenya’s efforts have worked to some extent: the share of young women between 20 and 24 years of age who were married before their 18th birthday dropped from 34 per cent in 1994 to 23 per cent in 2016, according to UNICEF.
The target date for eliminating child marriage was last year, but Kenya is still far from meeting that goal as poor households bear the brunt.
“Child marriage prevalence is the highest in Northern Kenya at 56 per cent and on the Coast 41 per cent. The causes of child marriage include social-economic factors, such as poverty, low education, and the treatment of girls as economic assets,” said UNICEF in a 2020 report.
By Chari Suche