Kenyan Advocacy on Child and Forced Marriage: A Guide for Faith Leaders

Kenyan Advocacy on Child and Forced Marriage: A Guide for Faith Leaders

Kenyan Advocacy on Child and Forced Marriage: A Guide for Faith Leaders

Forced marriage, including child marriage, is a form of modern slavery – a situation a person cannot refuse or leave due to threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power. It constitutes a fundamental violation of the human right to enter into marriage with free and full consent, as enshrined in international law.

All countries have committed to eliminating forced and child marriage by 2030, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and positive action to address the issue can be observed in many countries around the world. However global progress is slow, and the impacts of crises – including conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic – threaten to undermine what little progress has been made.

An estimated 22 million people around the world were living in a forced marriage on any given day in 2021. This estimate is conservative – not least because it does not include all child marriages. Forced marriage occurs in almost every country, and Kenya is no exception. In fact, Kenya has among the largest populations of child brides in the world, falling within the top 20 countries globally.

While Kenya has a relatively strong legal framework to combat forced marriage, existing laws are insufficiently enforced and several critical gaps in legislation remain, allowing the practice to persist.

Faith leaders see into the hearts of their communities, and are uniquely placed to support people living in a forced marriage to regain their freedom and advocate for positive change. IRCK and Walk Free, in collaboration with faith leaders, have developed this guide to support faith leaders to conduct advocacy to end forced and child marriage in Kenya. This guide can be used by the faith community to engage with the Kenyan government to meet its commitments under the SDGs and progress action to eliminate forced and child marriage.

Understanding child and forced marriage in Kenya

Child marriage is considered a form of forced marriage. While there is limited official data on the prevalence of forced marriage in Kenya, the 2014 national Demographic and Health Survey estimated that nearly one quarter of women (23 per cent) and three per cent of men aged 20 to 24 were married as children. There are several complex and intersecting drivers of child and forced marriage in Kenya, including poverty, lack of education, low social and economic value placed on girls, and the influence of religious and cultural norms and practices. These drivers vary across communities, and risk is often exacerbated in the context of crises, including natural disasters, conflicts, and epidemics.

Those living in a forced marriage are exposed to a number of adverse social and health impacts, which has implications for not only themselves, but for their families, communities, and society as a whole. Ultimately, forced marriage undermines equality, freedom, and human dignity – essential elements of a thriving society. While there are several myths and misconceptions surrounding forced marriage – including, for example, that it is a cultural practice that must be respected, or that it is a religious problem – the reality is that forced marriage is a global problem that cuts across countries, regions, cultures, and religions. It is a fundamental violation of human rights and is condemned by all major faiths.

Laws, gaps, and opportunities

Kenya has a relatively strong legal framework to combat child marriage: it is one of few countries around the world to explicitly prohibit the marriage of children under  with no exceptions, pursuant to the Marriage Act, 2014. However, gaps in the legal framework mean not all forms of forced marriage where consent has not been given have been criminalised. Further, many protections enshrined in national legislation are not fully enforced. Such gaps represent key opportunities for faith leaders to advocate for a stronger national response to forced marriage.

Advocacy strategies for faith leaders

As pillars of their communities and custodians of their faiths, faith leaders can play a pivotal role in driving a stronger government response to forced marriage. This guide recommends several advocacy strategies for faith leaders to use to advance collaboration and coordination to end forced marriage in Kenya by 2030, in line with the SDGs. Proposed advocacy tools include writing policy briefs, letters, and submissions; convening high-level interdenominational forums; participating in processions and annual commemorations; conducting advocacy campaigns using traditional and social media; and using the pulpit to disseminate messages.

Download or read full report here.