Originally posted Nov 7, 2010 8:31 PM by Project Africa [ updated Nov 7, 2010 8:46 PM ]
By Jared Akama Ondieki
President Kibaki and his government introduced free primary education and subsidized secondary education a few years ago when he took over the leadership of our country. This move was seen as hope for our children since many of them.joined school. However a sizeable number of children, specifically girls, still find themselves out of school due to a number of reasons.
The girls huddled together in a village school, whispering about the calamity that has befallen one of them, she started her period. They know what it means to the girls daily life.
She cannot attend class during this time since she will likely soil her dress and chair and all the boys will laugh at her. She is not alone, every week of the month one or two have to stay away from school when they are menstruating.
This means that each girl has to be away from school for 3 weeks in the 12 weeks that they have to be in school in a term, (there are typically 3 terms a year.)
The impoverished girls of the rural area do not look forward to that time of the month for them it means being stressed and missing out on school because these girls do not have access to the materials that allow them to deal with the bleeding.
A girl narrates how she has to miss school for a few days every month because her family cannot afford sanitary napkins. She is forced to use waste papers and rags she picks up from the rubbish pit that is near the school latrines.
‘When I discover my periods has come, I pretend I am looking for something in the pit, but I am actually looking for papers I can use,” Kwamboka says.
While searching, they often find men who offer them pocket money and are ready to cater to their needs. Many girls who succumb to this trap end up falling pregnant and leaving school.
It has also been revealed that most girls enter school at a late age because of the demand for their labor in their homes such as assisting in looking after their young siblings, in arid areas; girls stay at home to walk long distances in search of water for domestic use.
(Left: Jared and a volunteer with girls fetching water for domestic use)
Jane, 14, had this experience: “I had this rare chance of going back to school when education was made free. However, my dreams were cut short when my parents decided to marry me off to their creditor without my consent. When I tried to resist, they threatened me with death”, she says amid sobs.
In similar circumstances, a 16-year-old girl from the central Kiambu district, who preferred anonymity, was married off as soon as she was circumcised at the age of 13, thereby shattering her academic dreams.
Some parents justify the denial of girls their right to education to prevent them from bringing shame to the family through early pregnancy. Yet others believe that women who are at the same level of education as the men are a disgrace to the community because more often than not, they will not get married; and if they do, it will be to a foreigner. For such parents, early marriage is the best way to prevent this and at the same time preserve traditions.
In a number of Kenyan communities, it is girls, who spend more time on household chores than boys, leaving them with very little time to study at home. In case a family member falls sick, girls drop out of school to look after the sick relative.
The situation gets worse when a mother dies, forcing the girl to take over her responsibilities. The situation has been exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has forced children out of school to take up odd jobs in order to play the role of their parents.
According to the ministry of education, science and technology, many female children lack role models. Statistics from the ministry show that female teachers account for only about 30 per cent of the teaching staff. Most of these teachers are in the urban areas, leaving very few teachers in the rural areas.
But all is not lost. The government has taken some initiatives in the promotion of children’s education by enshrining this right in the Children’s Act, 2001. The Act also created a department for children to deal with their rights and welfare.
Application of such laws as, imprisonment of any person found guilty of negligence in this case, knowingly and willfully causing a child to become in need of care and protection has helped towards the promotion of the children’s right to education. According to Section 127 of the Children’s Act 2001, “any person found guilty of negligence is liable for a maximum of five years’ imprisonment or a fine of a sum not exceeding Kshs 200,000 or both fine and imprisonment”.
The fact that a number of NGOs have been allowed to operate in areas where early marriage is prevalent is also an issue. They are now educating the people on the importance of taking girls to school rather than marrying them off to older men..
The government, in collaboration with NGOs has also established centers where girls rescued from early marriage are accommodated and counselled, before being sent back to school. Through strict intervention of the government there is hope for the children who have been out of school to pursue their lifelong dreams.
However more has to be done to ensure that our girls get an opportunity to pursue their dreams in academics.
Jared Akama Ondieki,