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Last update: 4 January 2014 h. 17:37
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Kenya

Girl child education remains elusive

A combination of poverty, disease and backward cultural practices continue to deny the girl child her right to education. However, the government and the civil society are at the forefront of making her realise her dreams.
Esther Mwangi

Even with the introduction of free primary education, access to it education is still remains a pipe dream to many Kenyan children. Whereas the introduction of free primary education last year saw an increase in the enrolment, a sizeable number of children, especially girls still find themselves out of school owing to a number of reasons.

James Mwangi, an inspector of primary schools revealed that most girls enter school at a late age because of the demand for their labour in their homes such as assisting in looking after their young siblings.

Mary Gathoni, 15, had this experience: “I had this rare chance of going back to school when education was made free. However, my dreams were cut short when my parents decided to marry me off to their creditor without my consent. When I tried to resist, they threatened me with death”, she says amid sobs.

In similar circumstances, a 16-year-old girl from the central Kiambu district, who preferred anonymity was married off as soon as she was circumcised at the age of 13, thereby shattering her academic dreams.

Said she: “I thought of becoming a doctor but my dreams were shattered when my father, a Maasai decided to marry me off so that she could get dowry to add to his riches. At the age of 14, I gave birth and almost died in the process”, she recalled bitterly. The girl, now expecting her second child, did not escape from poverty and her parents have nothing to show for the dowry they received.

Some parents justify the denial of girls of their right to education to prevent them from bringing shame to the family through early pregnancy. Yet others believe that women who are at the same level of education as the men are a disgrace to the community because more often than not, they will not get married and if they do, it will be to a foreigner. For such parents, early marriage is the best way to prevent this and at the same time preserve traditions.

In a number of Kenyan communities, it is girls, who spend more time on household chores than boys, leaving them with very little time to study at home. In case a family member falls sick, girls drop out of school to look after the sick relative.

The situation gets worse when a mother dies, forcing the girl to take over her responsibilities. The situation has been exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has forced children out of school to take up odd jobs in order to play the role of their parents.

According to the ministry of education, science and technology, the girl child lacks role models. Statistics from the ministry show that female teachers account for only about 30 per cent of the teaching staff. Most of these are to be found in the urban areas, leaving very few teachers in the rural areas.

But all is not lost. The government has however taken some initiatives in the promotion of children’s education by enshrining this right in the Children’s Act, 2001. The Act also created a department for children to deal with their rights and welfare.

Application of such laws as, imprisonment of any person found guilty of negligence in this case, knowingly and wilfully causing a child to become in need of care and protection has helped towards the promotion of the children’s right to education. According to Section 127 of the Children’s Act 2001, “any person found guilty of negligence is liable for a maximum of five years’ imprisonment or a fine of a sum not exceeding KES 200000 or both fine and imprisonment”.

Of significance also is the fact that a number of NGOs have been allowed to operate in areas where early marriage is prevalent. They are now educating the people on the importance of taking girls to school rather than marrying them off to older men..

The government, in collaboration with NGOs has also established centres where girls rescued from early marriage are accommodated and counselled,before being sent back to school.

Through strict intervention of the government there is hope for the children who have been out of school to pursue their lifelong dreams.

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