Kenya, 11 April 2016: Children and young people act against child marriage in Kakuma refugee camp
By Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop and Wilson Kisiero
“I came here 15 years ago when I was eight. If I was still in Sudan I would be married with five children by now. Instead, I am educated and know about the harms of child marriage. In Sudan there was no awareness about it but here at the camp we have learnt about child rights.”
Rael is a beneficiary of an important programme that offers protection to young girls in the refugee camp against early marriage. She is also an active member of an anti-child marriage advocacy group that helps other vulnerable children in the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Located in North West Kenya, Kakuma Refugee Camp is among the world’s largest and is home to some 186,000 refugees. Children make up 60 per cent of the camp population. While many girls escape war at home, they are also confronted with harmful traditional practices transported to the refugee camps such as child marriage, blood revenge which involves the taking someone’s life to settle disputes and Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting (FGM/C).
UNICEF and its partners, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are working with children and young people aged 15-25 years in the camp to support community-led advocacy programmes addressing threats to children’s safety.
In 2015, a volunteer group supported by UNICEF through LWF conducted a camp-wide campaign to educate the community on harmful effects of child marriage and other forms of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Young participants came from Burundi, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. The groups also include young people from the host community of Turkana County in Kenya.
The campaign uses various methods to further its cause including promoting awareness on substance abuse and offering peer support.
Asoumani, a young man from the DRC who is part of the advocacy programme says, “Alcohol and drug abuse are a great contributor to SGBV. So we sensitize the community on substance abuse by performing plays, songs and music, as a starting point for discussion. The situation we face here in the camp often gives one a sense of despair but by being part of the group gives me comfort and I forget my solitude. I am working with others like me and learning leadership skills.”
The young people are trained on how to develop projects that will in turn serve the general camp population. They submit proposals to UNICEF through LWF and UNHCR, after which the best idea is selected and supported with small-scale funding. Through this process, the programme nurtures the talents of the young people, identifies issues important to them and raises awareness on children rights.
Clarisse Ntampaka, Child Protection Officer (UNHCR) in Kakuma, says that child marriage is a huge issue in the camp.
“Some child marriages are arranged in the country of origin and the husband’s family eventually come to the camp to claim the child. Some marriages are also arranged at the camp, particularly among the South Sudanese and Somalis. Where dowry has already been paid, it is difficult to undo the arrangement. A safe haven is provided in case the child is threatened with abduction.”
Dowry amounts for South Sudanese are typically between USD200-300 but can be as high as USD4,000. Such high amounts raise the stakes when it comes to preventing the girls from being taken away for marriage.
Patrick Wanyonyi who is an Assistant Child Protection Officer with LWF recounts a case where dowry was paid in South Sudan for a 14-year-old girl.
“She is now 16 years old and stays at the camp. One day, her father overheard a conversation between the girl’s mother and some men who had come to claim her,” he says.
The girl’s abduction was prevented when her father promptly reported the case.
Duniar, from DRC, another community youth campaigner against child marriage says that after conducting awareness-raising activities, children are now able to stand up for themselves. She says that girls now feel empowered to report such cases to the police or the LWF Child Protection Office. Similarly boys who have been sensitized are also coming out in support of their sisters.
UNICEF, working with partners like LWF and UNHCR, supports comprehensive child protection programmes in Kakuma focusing on case management of unaccompanied and separated children, and addressing general protection concerns. Raising awareness about harmful cultural practices including combating child marriage is important to secure the basic rights of children and to alleviate the poverty cycle.
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