In July last year, Kenyan authorities rescued a 12-year-old girl from Narok after she was married off to two different men in a span of one month.
The girl’s father had allegedly forced her to marry a 51-year-old man.
She managed to escape and then got married to a 35-year-old before being rescued by a children’s rights campaigner and government officials.
In the same year, police in Kwale County rescued three girls from forced marriages in Kasemenyi village at the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
Two of the girls, aged 10 and 13, had been married off for two weeks before officials raided their manyatta homesteads.
The night raid was met with resistance but police overpowered the suspects and arrested two men.
The two incidents are just a tip of the iceberg of the horror young girls, globally, endure under forced marriages, mostly facilitated by their parents or as a result of oppressive cultures.
Despite there being robust laws against the vice, child marriage remains widespread with millions of girls being married off annually.
Many factors including poverty, perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice and inadequate legislative framework, place a child at risk of marriage.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) last year released data on the state of global child marriage, which contains shocking statistics.
The data indicated that about 650 million girls and women alive today, were married as children. The UN agency also projected that more than 110 million additional girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade.
Globally, UNICEF showed around 21 per cent of young women were married before their 18th birthday translating to 12 million girls.
Most of these child marriages, the UN agency revealed, happen in Sub-Saharan Africa where 37 per cent of girls get married before the age of 18.
Niger, Central Africa Republic and Chad lead with cases of child marriage at 76, 68 and 67 per cent respectively.
South Asia had the largest decline in the prevalence from 49 per cent to 30 per cent.
Despite the gloomy statistics, however, 25 million child marriages have been prevented in the last decade.
According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) the national child marriage prevalence has decreased from 26.4 per cent (KDHS 2008-2009) to 23 per cent (KDHS 2014).
Gender and governance experts opine that high cases of child marriages is a threat to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling and limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement.
The issue of child marriage is addressed in a number of international conventions and agreements.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, for example, covers the right to protection from child marriage.
UNICEF observes that although marriage is not mentioned directly in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, child marriage is linked to other rights such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to protection from all forms of abuse, and the right to be protected from harmful traditional practices.
Other international agreements related to child marriage according to UNICEF are the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Children and Marriage Acts are some of the laws that protect girls and boys from child marriage by putting the age of marriage at 18.