Getting married at a young age isn’t something that most women or girls choose to do in the UK, but the fact of the matter is that we have a choice. Whereas in West Pokot, a rural area of Kenya I visited recently, a girl’s point of view doesn’t come into it.
Essentially, being told you are getting married without question is a common way of life. I found it pretty shocking to get my head around but it goes like this:
- You’re told you’re getting married
- You have to leave school whether you like it or not
- You (usually) don’t meet your prospective husband until the night before
- You get married and move really far away from your family
- You don’t have a say in the matter.
Chepturu is one of many girls I met who was at risk of this happening to her — of missing out on education and being forced into a marriage leaving her with little to no control over her life, her body and her future.
Chepturu, 13, has four older sisters. All four of them had been forced to get married very young.
When Chepturu was just 11 years old she found out that she was going to be forced to have female genital mutilation (FGM) - a traditional practice that is considered essential for marriage. She knew this meant that she would soon be told to marry. So she left home, taking nothing with her, and walked for seven hours to the Churu School and refuge which is supported by ActionAid.
When she told me this I thought back to myself as an 11-year-old and how unimaginable it would be to leave all that I had known, but Chepturu was determined that she wouldn’t live the same life as her four sisters before her.
“I thought to myself that the best thing to do was to go to school,” she said, “because I knew in the future I’ll get a better life.”
How we’re protecting girls from child marriage
The fact that Chepturu was so scared of having FGM and being forced to marry that she ran away shows how important our work is offering girls somewhere safe to go and working with communities to stop this practice.
While in Kenya I met Emily, who works for ActionAid.
In this photo taken at a primary school she’s surrounded by girls that she knows and has helped. This could be by:
• finding them somewhere to live temporarily
• getting them a place at a school
• mediating with the families they’ve run away from to avoid them being married off
• working with women’s groups to help them learn about girls’ rights
Emily and her team are now renowned in the area as the go-to women for girls in need of refuge and protection.
How you can help
Chepturu is now safe, is being supported through school and has become an active member of Churu School’s girls’ club, standing up for girls’ rights in the community. But millions of children like her are still at risk.
For just £5 a month you could help other girls like Chepturu from being married off when they are just children. This donation could help to cover the cost of a school uniform, books and other basic necessities to keep a girl safe and in school.