Vulnerable girls left at mercy of older men
Poverty and lack of basic needs has left many girls in the counties of Siaya, Kisumu and Homa Bay vulnerable to falling prey to older men. This has also seen the cases of school drop-outs in the three counties are worrying.
Recent studies have pointed an accusing finger at high poverty levels and early marriages as being the major contributing factors to the high rate of drop-outs especially for the girls.
The National Adolescent and Youth Survey Report conducted by the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) 2015, cited cases of how men are enticing girls in the counties with money and goodies to abandon their studies for short-term benefits.
These men include motor bike taxi operators, also known as boda-boda riders, who offer certain monetary payments to the young girls in exchange for sex. The girls are given a ride to and from school in the morning and evening for free, bought for lunch, taken to salons, and even paid for school fees by these opportunists.
According to the survey some of the schoolgirls have formed habit of riding on specific boda-bodas because of free transport services and pocket-money given by the operators.
“The free rides are usually a way of enticing the girls to accept the deal in the first place only for them to realize its consequences later after dropping out of school due to unwanted pregnancies,” the reports says in part.
Melap Sitati, lead researcher and education expert, described high levels of poverty, unemployment, scarce resources and the desire to live well left many girls of school going age easily lured into immorality.
According to Sitati, those who top the list are casual labourers such as boda-boda riders, fishermen and masons.
The survey also listed Homa Bay, Kericho and Bomet counties as leading in cases of gross abuses towards children. However, Kisumu, Siaya (Bondo) and Homa Bay counties in Nyanza region are leading in abuse of girls due to the high population of fishermen along the shores of Lake Victoria.
According to Rose Opiyo popularly known as Mama Samaki, fishermen and riders are cashing in on the high levels of poverty in the region.
However, critics argue that high poverty index in the counties are not necessarily attributed to the high population and dependency levels but it is because of bad governance. They explained Siaya and Kisumu counties have the best mentors in the region but leadership is lacking.
“If school children who are well-educated get pregnant and drop out of school then it means they engage in unprotected sex. So, chances of them contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are also very high,” laments Joseph Okanya, a matatu driver.
According to Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS) 2012, HIV prevalence among women aged between 15-19 stands at 1.1 per cent, 20-24 (4.6%), 25-29 (7.9%) and 30-34 (6.6%). Among the four counties along the lakeside, Homa Bay County is leading both regionally and nationally with 25 per cent prevalence.
“In our discussions across the 47 the counties, poverty, lack of school fees and morale were identified as major challenges to accessing education,” explains Sitati, an education expert.
“Lack of employment and alternative sources of income among parents or guardians is a contributing factor to most school children dropout,” claims a parent who requested anonymity.
It is for these reasons that Plan International Kenya has decided to work in the three counties of Kisumu, Siaya and Homa Bay to rescue girl-child education from eroding. The organization is in the counties with an aim of ensuring all school age children attend to their education to completion with special attention to especially girls who are at higher risk.
Mercy Chege, Manager in charge of Child Protection Plan International Kenya, said the organization has formed technical working groups that consist of various competent stakeholders who include officials from the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Education and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) among others.
Chege affirms the technical working groups are specifically formed for the three counties in Nyanza Region as a way of curbing rising cases of child marriage.
According to Chege, Plan picked on the three counties after enquiries and consultations with researchers and governments.
“The technical working groups are in these three counties so as to help end the issue of child marriage otherwise known as early or forced marriage,” Chege explains. She emphasises: “The organization will support girl-child education in the three counties by ensuring girls are registered in schools, receive necessary education materials as well as protecting them from harsh families and cultural beliefs.”
Chege was speaking during the official inauguration of End Child Marriage Technical Working Groups in Kisumu. According to Chege, the groups will help in spreading messages aimed at ending child marriages. Other forms of child abuses will also be addressed within the group’s respective counties.
The Kisumu County Technical Working Group comprises of 22 persons, while those in Siaya County, working within Bondo Sub-County are 25 and Homa Bay County has 30 people. A total of 77 persons have been chosen for the task to push the organization’s agenda to end child abuses especially early marriages.
“Homa Bay County has the highest number of child marriages standing at 58 per cent followed closely by Bondo Sub-County in Siaya at 45 per cent while Kisumu stands at 42 per cent in terms of child marriages,” Chege reveals.
“Despite these three counties having no cases of Female Genital Mutilation, they have higher rates of child marriages and this is why as Plan International, we have decided to form these groups dubbed as End Child Marriage Technical Working Groups,” Chege explains.
The Child Protection expert says that in order to ensure the three groups succeed, they will be meeting once after every three months to provide their quarterly report. However, individual groups will be meeting often to review on their processes, challenges and successes before reporting to the head office over the agenda.
To ensure ground support, Chege assures residents that the groups will also be working with the various Beach Management Units within the three counties. She challenged boda boda riders and fishermen to join them in the campaign.