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Kenya, 11 October 2016: Message from the UNICEF Kenya Representative on the 2016 International Day of the Girl Child

2016 International Day of the Girl Child

Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: What Counts for Girls: Ending Harmful Practices in Kenya

The International Day of the Girl was established by the United Nations in 2011 to draw attention to the need to create more opportunities for girls and to increase awareness of the gender inequality faced by girls worldwide. Specifically, this inequality includes issues such as education, nutrition, medical care, legal rights, discrimination, and child marriage. The theme of this year’s commemoration of the International Day of the Girl, celebrated today on 11 October 2016, is “Girls' Progress = Goals' Progress: What Counts for Girls”.

A report released by UNICEF ahead of the International Day of the Girl entitled Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls: Taking stock and looking ahead to 2030 notes that girls’ work is less visible and often undervalued. Too often adult responsibilities such as caring for family members, including other children, are imposed on girls. Time spent on chores limits a girl’s time to play, socialize with friends, study and be a child. In some countries, collecting firewood and water puts girls at risk of sexual violence.

According to the report, globally, girls between 5 and 14 years old spend 40 per cent more time, or 160 million more hours a day, on unpaid household chores and collecting water and firewood compared to boys their age.

The data show that the disproportionate burden of domestic work begins early, with girls between 5 and 9 years old spending 30 per cent more time, or 40 million more hours a day, on household chores than boys their age. The numbers rise as girls get older, with 10 to 14 year olds spending 50 per cent more time, or 120 million more hours each day.

The report also notes that data for two-thirds of the 44 girl-related indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the global roadmap to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all – are either limited or poor. This is worrying because quantifying the challenges girls face is the first critical step towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and breaking down the barriers that confront the world’s 1.1 billion girls.

In Kenya, great progress has been made in the last decade in realizing the rights of girls and boys. Reduced child mortality, reduced child malnutrition, improved school attendance, increased access to safe drinking water, mean that today many more boys and girls in Kenya survive, thrive and grow up to be educated citizens. Compared with about ten years ago, these boys and girls are enabled to make a better contribution to their community and society at large. This progress is underpinned by a strong constitution which recognizes child rights.

© UNICEF Kenya/2016/Gakuo
A group of adolescent girls smile during the 2016 National Children's Government Congress in Nairobi, Kenya

However, there is still a lot to be done to achieve the SDGs. For example, in the context of October 11, Goal 5 is of particular importance, which aims to realize girls’ and women’s rights to enjoy gender equality, live a life free from discrimination, violence, exploitation, female gender mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

As we commemorate the International Day of the Girl 2016, we would like to highlight one of these issues. Child Marriage continues to affect the lives of too many girls and women. In Kenya, almost one in four (22.9 per cent) girls are married before their 18th birthday and 4.4 per cent are married before they reach the age of fifteen. In some regions and counties of Kenya, the prevalence of child marriage (before age 18) is still especially high; North Eastern (56 per cent), followed by the Coast (41 per cent), Nyanza (32 per cent), Rift Valley (30 per cent), and Western (27 per cent) (Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 2014).

The impact of child marriage has far-reaching implications for the well-being, education and health of a large proportion of adolescent girls (and to a lesser but still significant extent for boys) in Kenya. Its extensive impact affects the quality of their adult lives and the lives of their children. Those children who are forced into child marriage are denied the right to determine their own course of life and to be consulted on key decisions that affect them. Child marriage also negatively impacts on long-term poverty reduction and development outcomes for Kenya.

The majority of child marriages are arranged by elders (men and women) and formalized through customary procedures such as the payment of a bride price to the girl’s family. No one tells the girls that their lives will never be the same or that they will be given the lion’s share of household tasks.

As a UNICEF study on child marriage in Turkana County (Family Assets, Understanding and Addressing Child Marriage in Turkana, UNICEF 2015) showed, many girls are forced or tricked into marriage. Some of the girls who were interviewed during the research remember seeing a handful of animals exchanged, feeling afraid, and being unable to refuse or insist on staying in school, or with their families.

© UNICEF Kenya/2012/Noorani
A young Turkana girl at Nakalala village in Turkana County, north western Kenya.

Child marriage is a critical child protection issue, captured in the SDGs – that reaches into a broad range of other child rights violations. These include a child’s right to protection from sexual exploitation, violence, child labour and separation from parents, as well as a child’s right to a family environment, play, education, even survival and development.

The legal age of marriage for women and men in Kenya is 18, as per the 2014 Marriage Act. Kenya's far-sighted Constitution provides for the protection of women, men and children from all forms of violence, including harmful cultural practices. Furthermore, critical legislation such as the 2006 Sexual Offences Act, the 2010 Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act and the 2011 Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation, clearly show a commitment to eradicate gender-based violence. In addition, Kenya Vision 2030 prioritizes prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. The Government of Kenya also has nationwide programmes to prevent and respond to violence against children. However, as noted above, more remains to be done to achieve the national goals. As the UNICEF report notes, one of these issues is to improve data availability and evidence-generation so that national programmes can become more effective and efficient and communication to change behaviour can lead to desired results. UNICEF and other UN agencies, as well as a broader range of development partners are committed to work alongside and under the leadership of the Government to end Child Marriage and continue to improve the lives of girls.



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