One of the girls recently rescued from early marriages by police and the provincial administration in Narok West. Picture By Kipchumba Kemei
BY KIPCHUMBA KEMEI
- At 11 years, LankeiNabulu was yet to join school but still entertained thoughts of getting an education and becoming successful later in life
- Her father, however, had better ideas for her – he found a suitor to marry his underage daughter
- The practice is common in her Maasai community but Lankei outwit her father by running away from home
- Like hundreds of other girls escaping from early marriages, she found a safe haven at a rescue centre two kilometres away where she is now a Class One pupil
Even though children from her Naikara location in Narok West delay in joining school, LankeiNabulu was even long overdue. At 11 years, when her peers elsewhere were in Class Five, young Lankei still nursed hopes that one day her parents would send her to school. She had dreams of getting an education and becoming successful in life, and transferring some of the good benefits to her younger siblings. But that’s as far as her dreams went, at least while still living under her father’s roof.
Last monthas Lankei was going about her house hold chores, a burly man dressed in traditional Maasai regalia came calling at their home and her father led him to his Manyatta. Unbothered, Lankei went on with her duties as it was normal for his father to receive guests whom he would while the evening away with. But an hour later as the man accompanied by her father emerged from inside the Manyatta, little did she know the two men had already struck a deal, but one she least expected, one that would have shattered her dreams of a good life in future.
“My father called me out of the kitchen. He told me to shake the man’s hand. He then announced so casually that the man was going to be my husband. The news shattered my heart,” recounts Lankei, now a Class One pupil in Naikara Primary School.
In Maasai tradition, a man as old as the one her father said was her suitor would have greeted her by only touching her head because she was a child but by extending his arm for a handshake was alone quite telling, she reveals.
Dressed in a denim dress that had seen better days, the only cloth she managed to escape in the following day after the heartbreaking news, Lankei says she did not believe her father would ever betray her, at least not in such a manner. “All along I had believed he had good plans for me. It hit me when the opposite proved to be true,” says a girl who wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.
So how did she manage to escape from the grip of her suitor and an early marriage? Lankei reveals that she walked for about two kilometers to asafe haven, a school that took her in.
She adds: “My mother, who was against my father’s decision to marry me off, got to know where I was after two weeks. I will never go back home even when schools will close because my father who I am told has already cursed me, is still angry,” Lankei, who is among hundreds of young girls to have escaped from arranged marriages, is now staying at a rescue centreneighbouringthe Maasai Mara National Reserve. What is unique about the rescue centre is that it also accommodates young boysrunning away from early circumcision to become morans(community warriors).
The rescue centre is overstretched for the sheer number of victims it accommodates. A class that is supposed to house 40 pupils now has more than 80 pupils, straining the learning and boarding facilities. When other boarders break for holidays, those who have run away from their homes remain; forcing school administration to find a way of feeding them.
“The situation is dire. To feed them, accommodate them and even buy uniforms for them is a big headache. We lack support from both the county and national governments and we have no donor support,” says KoilekenLoontubu, the headteacher of the rescue centre and school.
Last term, the institution had 128 girls who had run away from early marriages, says MrLoontubu, adding that the school has also for the last seven years been the home of boys whose parents force them into moranism and cattle herding.
“There is a big thirst for education among children in the Mara region but their parents are a big letdown. These parents are known but no action is being taken against them,” he says. The head teacher, who is grappling with how to accommodate, feed and teach the ever-growing number of the pupils, says girls as young as 11 are being married off under the watch of village elders, chiefs and a host of provincial administration functionaries.
“Those who marry these young girls pay dowry in form of blankets first, before giving out cows, sheep and goats as a complete package. All these processes happen with full knowledge of people who are supposed to enforce the country’s and children’s laws to the letter,” said a frustrated MrLoontubu.
He says most parents whose children have run away from their homes have been coming to the school wanting them back home, adding that teachers have many times been threatened of dire consequences if they fail assist to free the children.
Other primary schools that have been turned into rescue centres in Mara are Nkoilale, Talek, Kishermorwak, Siana, Sekenani, Narosura, Olorte, Leshuta and Miguara. Still others are to be found along the Kenya-Tanzania border.
Evidently thirsty for education, these children have remained defiant and would not follow their parents back home.MinkiKirrokor, 13, a Class Three pupil at Nkoilale Primary School had already been forcefully circumcised in December last year, ready to be married off to a man who had already paid dowry to her father.
When the man she was supposed to be married to went for her mid January, she ran to an Administration Police post. The police brought her to the rescue centre, and later arrested her father.
Minki’s father,KonanaKirokor, was later released after he made a written and signed commitment at the AP’s post in presence of a local assistant chief that he would not interfere with her education again.
The head of the AP Sergeant Samuel Gaitho, MrNkilishoKuntai, an assistant chief of Siana sub location and the school head teacher Joseph Ololsikkanyi decided the girl be re-admitted as a border, observing that her father would interfere with her learning if she remained a day scholar.
“We decided that he should be boarding in the school to ensure she continues with her education unhindered. There is fear that her father might again withdraw her from school and take her to Tanzania where he has relatives for her to be married off,” says Ololsikanyi.
Esther Sein, a Class Five pupil in the same school, adds: “My father who wanted me to be circumcised had already identified a man who would have married me before schools re-opened this term. When schools close for August holidays, I will not go home because I want to continue with my education.”
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