Schools in Narok bear burden of early forced marriages, as survivors seek asylum
Eleven year-old Elizabeth had big dreams. She dreamt of getting an education that would see her land a big job and be able to help her siblings and parents.
However, these dreams were cut short one day when a cattle trader landed in their home in Naikara Location, Narok West sub-County where she was living with her parents.
The cattle trader arrived late in the evening at her parents’ manyatta (home) and after about an hour of talking to her father, they all emerged from a house with shocking news.
“My father called me out of the kitchen and told me to shake the man’s hands and after that he told me that this was going to be my husband,” recalls Elizabeth, now a Class One pupil in Naikara Primary School.
Dressed in an old and torn dress made of denim , the only clothes she managed to escape in the following day, Elizabeth says she did not believe that one day her father would betray her dreams.
“I lived believing that he had good plans for me. It hit me hard that my education was never a priority for him,” says Elizabeth who wants to be a lawyer.
Elizabeth realized that she could only make her dreams come true by escaping from all this. She had to flee for dear life and for the love of her education by walking two kilometres to where her new school is situated.
“My mother, who was against my father’s decision, knew where I was after two weeks. I will never go back home even when schools close because my father, whom I suspect has already cursed me, is still angry.”
Elizabeth is among hundreds who have turned schools neighbouring Maasai Mara National Reserve into rescue centres for girls and some boys running away from early marriages and moranism.
Their movements have overstretched learning, boarding and other facilities with a class that is supposed to house 40 pupils accommodating 80 and above.
When others break for holidays, those who have fled from their homes remain behind, forcing school administrators to accommodate them. This increases the schools’ budget because they have to be fed.
“The situation is dire. To feed, accommodate and even buy them uniforms is a big burden,” says Koileken Loontubu, a head teacher.
“We lack support from both the County and national government. Neither do we have any donors,” says Loontubu whose is this term accommodating 128 girls who ran away from early marriages.
For the past seven years, the school has been home to boys whose parents force them into moranism, cattle herding and early forced marriages.
“There is a big thirst for education among children in the Mara region but their parents are a let-down,” explains Loontubu.
Matters are compounded by some chief who fail to take action when matters are reported.
“These parents are known but no action is being taken against them,” the head teacher laments.
Loontubu is grappling with how to accommodate, feed and teach the ever growing number of the pupils, and reveals girls as young as 11 are still being married off contrary to the Children’s Act and Sexual Offences Act under the watch of village elders, chiefs and the provincial administration.
“Those who marry these young girls start by presenting parents with blankets before giving out cows, sheep and goats as a complete dowry package,” explains Loontubu. He notes: “All these processes happen with full knowledge of people who are supposed to enforce the country’s laws to the letter.”
Most parents whose children have ran away come to the school demanding them back while others threaten teachers who fail to free them.
Other primary schools that have been turned into rescue centres in Mara include Nkoilale, Talek, Kishermorwak, Siana, Sekenani, Narosura, Olorte, Leshuta and Miguara. There are also others along the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
When she was only 12 years, Mary (name withheld), now Class Three at Nkoilale Primary School had already been forcefully circumcised in December last year. This made her ready to be married off to a man who had already paid dowry in form of blankets, sheep, goats and cows to her father.
When the man she was supposed to be married to came for her hand mid-January, Mary ran to the nearest Administration Police post, forcing the police to take her to school and to arrest her father.
Her father, Konana Kirokor, was later released after he made a written and signed commitment at the police post in the presence of a local assistant chief that he would not interfere with her education again.
Sergeant Samuel Gaitho (head of the Aps), Nkilisho Kuntai, an assistant chief of Siana sub-location and the school head teacher Joseph Ololsikkanyi decided the girl be readmitted as a boarder, for fear that her father would interfere with her education if she remained a day scholar.
“We decided that she should be boarding to ensure she continues with her education unhindered,” says Ololsikanyi. He adds: “There is fear that her father might withdraw her again from school and take her to Tanzania where he has relatives for her to be married off.”
Esther, a class five pupil in the same school says: “My father who wanted me to be circumcised had already identified a man who would have married me before schools re-opened this term.”
Esther says when schools close for August holidays she will not go home because she wants to continue with her education. She knew about the plans to have her married off through her school mates who are neighbours of her would-be husband, a man much older than her.
When Esther asked her father why he wanted to marry her off yet she her desire was to complete schooling, he was furious and wanted to beat her up, forcing her to flee.
“I’m prepared to stay in school until my father drops his plans. I know even if I go home my father who has promised the school administration that he has shelved his plans will break his word, shattering my dreams of pursuing education,” says Sein, 16, who wants to be a surgeon on completion of her education.
According to Ololsikanyi, the school administration has in the past reconciled some of the girls with their parents.
At Kishermoruak Primary School, more pupils have been rescued from early marriages, moranism and cattle-herding.
According to the head teacher, Jonathan Mayone, there is still resistance by parents to send their children to school despite being prevailed upon. “Most pupils here start school at between 13 and 15 years because their parents have not embraced education,” says Mayone.
Eleven year old Mataiyan who ran to the AP Post, seven kilometres away, says she was tipped that her father had planned to get her married to a neighbour’s son.
“My father wanted me to get married so that my elder brother would use my dowry to marry. I didn’t like the idea and that is why I ran away to seek help from the police,” says Mataiyan, now in class one.
Robert Oigo, head teacher at Nkaasioki Primary School says 36 pupils from institution have been rescued this year.
Oigo has been threatened by parents who are against the mission, and recalls an incident early this year when a parent who was armed with poisoned arrows forcefully entered the school compound in the evening demanding for his daughter.
“It was one of the lowest moments in our mission to ensure children who have attained school going age access learning,” observes Oigo. He explains: “We were lucky he was overpowered by teachers and watchmen who later handed him over to the administration police.”
When contacted, Narok West MP, Patrick Ntutu, says enrolment and transition from primary to secondary schools was low. He promised to use the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to provide food, text books and other needs for girls and boys who have run away from their homes.