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Early Marriage and FGM Victims in Garissa get a Haven

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Victims had nowhere to run to or call home whenever they faced human rights violations

Victims of early marriage and female genital mutilation in Garissa county now have a haven.

Action Aid has constructed a Sh7.5 million fully equipped safe house for girls who are at risk of being victims of outdated practices. It is the first facility of its kind to be set up in North Eastern region.

The facility, which is located at Kamuthe Primary School, will be run by women activists in the area.

For a long time, victims had nowhere to run to or call home whenever they faced human rights violations.

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2017, about 72 per cent of girls in Garissa county are out of school over myriad of challenges, including child marriage, FGM and defilement.

Cultural beliefs and practices have worked against women and girls in the region.

Speaking when she handed over the facility to the community, Action Aid Kenya Executive Director Makena Mwobobia said the safe house is a stopgap measure as stakeholders advocate for a violence-free environment.

“We all need to unite in tackling barriers in girls’ education in the region. This can only be achieved through partnership and working with the government ministries, community, religious leaders and NGOs,” she said.

Mwobobia said there is a need to improve on transition, retention and completion of girls’ education. 

Maka Kassim, an activist and Chairlady of Kamuthe Women Network, said the safe house was established at the right time.

“I receive phone calls from all corners of Garissa and the neighbouring Tana River to rescue girls from FGM and early marriages. In some cases, I take the girls to my house. But as you know, I cannot accommodate all of them because my house is not only small but I don’t have the means,” Kassim said.

Maka is currently housing a 16-year-old girl she rescued from an early marriage in Bangale. The girl was about to be married off. She will sit her KCSE exam later this year.

"These things are a complete violation of women's and girls' rights. It violates their right to education, life, dignity, health and bodily integrity,” she said.

Maka appealed to the government, NGOs and even well-wishers to come on board and build more safe houses and resource centres because hundreds of girls are forced to run away from their families after being subjected to these vices.

Others have not been so lucky and have been wives at an early age.

Speaking separately, Kamuthe head teacher Abdinoor Keynan said the transition, retention and completion of girls in schools is very low.

In the school, out of 350 pupils only 130 are girls. In Standard 8, only five are girls in a class of 27 pupils.

An estimated 100 million to 140 million women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM and three million are at risk of undergoing the cut in Africa, especially in the sub-Saharan and horn of Africa.

Story published in The Star Newspaper: