This week’s Secondary Life Skills class revolved around a very relevant topic; early marriage. We kicked the lesson off by trying to figure out what exactly these kids knew about the subject. What, technically, is early marriage? Why do people want to commit at such young ages? Are there consequences to tying the knot before your 18th birthday? Luckily for us as teachers, the students of Shimoni Secondary School had a lot to say, claiming illiteracy and cultural traditions as some of the many reasons teenagers say “I do”. We laid out the facts for them, accompanied by a few terrifying statistics. 25% of married women in Kenya were wed before the age of 18. Among girls age 15-19, the married ones are 75% more likely to contract HIV. In southern Africa 50% of girls married before the age of 18 have less than 3 years of educations. In Kenya alone 36% of girls married before the age of 18 think that it is sometimes justified for her husband to beat her. And, the jaw-dropper, if current trends continue 100 million girls will be married under the age of 18 over the next 10 years, that’s 25,000 young girls per day. Something is tragically wrong and the Form 1 class at Shimoni Secondary was starting to get the big picture.
|Health staff Kopa gives Form 1 the facts about HIV|
Once we were about ready to close our mouths at the front of the classroom, we decided to kick off a little debate, permitting our pupils were willing to get a little heated. The motion: If a girl is under the age of 18 and her parents intend for her to be married, does she have to right to go against their wishes and say ‘no’? This got them to start exuding some passion, we split the room into opposers and proposers to discuss and form reasons why their opinions were correct. The students took our original debate idea to an entirely new level. One would raise their hand when they would like to make a statement for their side, upon being called on he or she would stand up and, firstly, thank the speaker, then explain which side they were on by repeating the motion out loud and finally giving a supporting argument.
|Jordan teaches Form 1 the facts about early marriage|
There was a wide spectrum of perceptions of this topic, some on the basis of health, others due to cultural norms. A few opposers made the argument that the girl is still a child and therefore under the care of her parents so she must be obedient to them because they provide for her. Proposers argued that because she is under 18 she should not be forced into marriage, as it is technically illegal to wed as a minor in Kenya. Opposers still pushed on, stating that perhaps the girl needed to sacrifice her marital status to bring some money into the family, that her parents were marrying her off in order to pull themselves out of poverty. Then, one small boy on the proposing team stood up and made an argument using some of the exact facts we had taught during the lesson “The girl should have a right to say no because its her who will have a high risk of contracting HIV, not her parents.” Check and mate. The class bell rang, we erased the board and our debate carried on in the mouths of our students as they walked out the door to their next classes.
Jordan Ianuzzi, Health Project Volunteer