KENYA: “I will not give up just because I am a girl”

Kurunzi Afrika

BY GEORGE AOKO

I waited impatiently by the gate to be allowed into Moi Kadzonzo Girls’ Secondary in the coastal region of Kilifi county, Kenya, to meet a girl who has bravely breached the norms and culture of her community by resuming her studies after giving birth at the tender age of 14.

In her community the majority of girls who give birth at an early age are forcefully married off to their impregnators. The girls parents would then get an early dowry which acts as the penalty fee men pay for impregnating the young girl.

At 14, a Grade 7 girl, Rehema (not her real name), could not believe that she had fallen pregnant and would later give birth, through caesarian section, to a baby girl.

Rehema, who was by then being raised by her mother after her father succumbed to a fatal illness, almost lost hope after her only elder brother became furious over the pregnancy and swore never to help support her financially and contribute towards her education.

Hailing from a poor family comprising of her jobless Mother and four siblings, Rehema could not imagine dropping out of school, yet she still dreamed of finding a good job after her education and pulling her family from their deeply rooted poverty.

With no one to turn to after her only elder brother disowned her, she dropped out of school and remained with her mother to think through her next move, abortion never entering her mind.

“After realizing that I was pregnant I immediately left school because I did not want my fellow pupils to know the truth because they could have talked ill about me”, Rehema explains in a somber husky voice.

What hurt her most is that, despite her baby’s father, a 20 year-old-boy form 4 student admitting to having impregnated her, his parents vehemently denied it claiming that their son was too young to impregnate her. She was then incapable of receiving support from the baby’s father or his family.

“Even though the boy admitted being responsible for my pregnancy his parents vehemently denied it, saying that their son was too young to impregnate me. This was simply because they did not want their son, who was also a student, to be held responsible for my upkeep. I am sure I underwent all that because I am a girl,” said the sobbing Rehema.

Rehema believed that she was being unfairly treated because she was a girl and sought help from a Children’s Officer volunteer, Harry Kabi, working with Plan International located in Kwale county.

Even with the help of the Childrens’ Officer to seek legal action against the boy who impregnated her, Rehema’s mother was unable to raise the funds needed to secure her daughter’s justice, forcing them to drop the matter and let the boy and his family go.

Rehema explained that after she expressed her miseries and fears of completely dropping from school, the children’s officer promised to approach his senior officers at the organisation to assist her to carry on with her education after giving birth.

“After giving birth at the Msambweni Health Care Centre in Kwale County through caesarian section, She came back to me and told me that she was not willing to breast feed the baby because she really wanted to get back to school,” remembers Harry, the Children’s Officer.

Harry explained that he advised her to breastfeed the baby, at least for the first three months, so that the baby could get the rich nutrients it needed and then he would assist her to get back to school and carry on with her studies.

After two and a half months, Harry said, the impatient and desperate Rehema went back to him with her mind set that he either assist her to get back to school or she was ready to kill the baby and be free to look for another school by herself.

It is the high hopes in her of continuing with her education and becoming a doctor which encouraged Harry to assist Rehema to get back to school in the Waa Girls Rescue Center in Kwale, while her mother promised to take care of her grandchild.

After successfully completing her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education she was admitted to Moi Kadzonzo Girls Secondary School in Kilifi and to date continues with her education. She is now in Form Three.

According to the school’s principal, Doris Kavuku, Rehema’s performance has remained impressive and she is among the students the school expects will perform best during the final exams.

“We expect she will shine come the end of year exams. She is obedient, respectful and has a vision in her life, with proper coaching she will surprise many with her performance,” said the principal.

Even though Rehema does not encourage young girls to get involved in early sexual relationships, she said that her dream profession is to become a doctor and to assist the young girls who might fall in the trap of becoming pregnant at tender ages just as she had. She wants to be able to help them get back to school and realise their dreams.

“Getting pregnant at an early age should not be seen as the end of the road on education for young girls, as it is depicted in the villages, but should be seen as an eye opener for a girl with a vision through education in the community”.

“I did not know that I would come this far after giving birth but thanks to God and Plan International organization, I am now in form three and hope to pass with flying colours and realise my dream of becoming a doctor,” said the smiling Rehema.

* This article was written as part of the Africa Alliance of YMCAs Subject 2 Citizen Media Advocacy Training held in Kenya in 2013.