Kenya

Calling for an end to child marriage in commemoration of the 2015 Day of the African Child

Marching for a cause

In Kenya’s capital Nairobi, children drawn from public and private primary schools, as well as the Kakuma and Daadab refugee camps, congregated at the New Kihumbuini Primary School in Kangemi to commemorate the 2015 Day of the African Child (DAC).

About 500 children participated in this unique satellite event that ensured that they had an opportunity to add their voice to the 2015 rallying call to end child marriages in the country, and within the continent. This being their day, this commemorative event also enabled child representatives articulate their thoughts, concerns, hopes and aspirations to the invited stakeholders that comprised representatives from the National and County Government, development agencies, teachers, parents and fellow children.

Part of the festivities that marked the day’s celebrations included a large procession consisting mainly of children with and without disabilities, who marched through the highly populous Kangemi neighbourhood to raise awareness about the complex, yet important, debate on child marriages in Africa.

Incidentally, DAC (2015) also coincided with the 25th anniversary since the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights of Children. The celebrations therefore allowed for a review of the gains achieved as well as an agreement by all stakeholders on the need to accelerate their collective efforts to end child marriages in Africa. The day provided a great platform for children from all walks of life to interact and share, through thematic songs and dances, their valid sentiments on the impact of child marriages to their development.

Safeguarding all children

Hon. Timothy Wanyonyi, MP Westlands Constituency delivers his remarks to the children. In his opening remarks, the chief guest at this year’s, celebrations, Hon. Timothy Wanyonyi, the Member of Parliament for Westlands Constituency, outlined the legal framework that has been put in place to ensure that children’s rights are recognized and protected. “We have put legislation in place to protect children and if there are any adults who are molesting children or violating children’s rights, the law is very clear we can take very stun action against them, including the parents,” he said. The legislator went further to assure all children present that any culprits found culpable of committing such criminal acts against minors will be liable for prosecution.

In the same breath, the chief guest urged all stakeholders to adopt an education centered approach as a tool for eliminating child marriages in Kenya. “As we celebrate today, we would like to give our children education and that is the only way we can empower them to become the future owners of this Country.

"Speaking as a person with disability, the legislator encouraged all parents who have children with disabilities to enroll them in school. “Any parent who has any difficulty in taking any child to school, the government has provided a fund to take care of that,” he remarked. The legislator also encouraged parents and guardians to embrace a communal approach to child rearing. “Children don’t belong to one person or family, they belong to the community, “he concluded.

Echoing similar remarks, Stella Mwende, the child guest representative for children with disabilities, reiterated the need for the schools within the continent to adopt the concept of inclusivity as a mitigation measure against child marriages. “Children with disabilities, just like their counterparts without disabilities face challenges such as early school dropout. When they miss school because of such things, actually their lives becomes difficult for them. The only way that we can avoid that is to ensure that all schools in Africa are inclusive, meaning that they can accommodate each and every child in Africa,” she asserted.

About the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

According to UNICEF, many children in Africa are affected by different types of abuse, including economic and sexual exploitation, gender discrimination in education, and their involvement in armed conflict. The problem is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than a third of children are engaged in child labour.

Like the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) was created to protect children. The Charter spells out the rights that African countries must ensure for their children, and it is the main instrument of the African human rights system for promoting and protecting child rights.

In the spirit of ACRWC, article 53 of the Kenyan Constitution protects all children from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation, inhuman treatment and harmful cultural practices - including child marriages, whilst also bestowing on them the exclusive rights to education, nutrition, health services, basic shelter and parental protection.

Other safeguards that bolster the fight against child marriage in the country include the Marriage Act and the Children Act (2001).

Protecting children’s rights

Stella Mwende, a student with visual impairment addresses guests at the DAC 2015 commemoration. While acknowledging the unique and glaring challenge of eliminating child marriages in Kenya, Beth Njoroge, the Sub-County Children’s Officer in Westlands on behalf of the Ag.Cabinet Secretary for Labour, Hon. Rachel Omamo, reiterated the Government’s commitment in fighting the vice. “Child marriage, which is marriage of a person below the age of 18 years, is a violation of the rights of the children. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Children recognizes child marriages as a violation of all the four pillars of child rights which are; survival, development, protection and participation. The government is committed to ensure that these legal provisions are enforced and perpetrators prosecuted,” she asserted.

Catherine Hamon-Sharpe, the Deputy Representative and Head of Protection Unit at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), who spoke on behalf of the development agencies present, reminded all guests of the true potential of an educated girl child. “When girls are educated and empowered they are in a much stronger position to say no to early marriages because they know fully the harm that it causes. They would be the best advocates to convince others, that one can both be an educated mother, woman and a wife,” she said. Additionally, Catherine, called on all stakeholders to address the issue of poverty as a contributing factor fueling child marriages. “Poverty is at the core of child marriages and the effects of these marriages do not enable the girls to get out of these poverty circles.”

CBM strongly believes in the recognition, respect and protection of child rights for children with and without disabilities. By joining advocacy platforms such as the DAC, CBM is able to amplify its passion for inclusive development amongst likeminded stakeholders, therefore contributing to and complementing ongoing efforts of eliminating harmful practices affecting children in Africa. With the multiplicity of voices; together we can do more for our children.