There are an estimated 328,000 people living in conditions of slavery in Kenya (GSI 2018). While Kenya has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, 23% of Kenyan girls are still married before their 18th birthday. According to UNICEF, Kenya has the 20th highest absolute number of child brides in the world. Forced child marriage is driven by gender inequality with the belief that girls are inferior to boys. It is exacerbated by poverty, natural disasters and cultural traditions such as female genital mutilation and Samburu whereby a close family relative will approach a girl’s parents with red Samburu beads and place the necklace around the girl’s neck as a form of engagement.
Chepkorir was forced to work tending her father’s cattle from a young age, preventing her from receiving any education. When she was 10 years old, Chepkorir’s father arranged her marriage to a 76 year old man. She ran away and found refuge in a church who put her in contact with HAART Kenya. At HAART’s shelter, Chepkorir was able to get an education and secure employment. The COVID-19 outbreak has however led to the postponement of her employment.
My name is Chepkorir and I am 21 years old. I am my father’s only child, so I had to tend to my father’s cattle from a very young age. I never set foot in a classroom, nor held a pencil or book. I had always dreamed of going to school but from the life I was living, this dream seemed very far fetched. When I was 10 years old, I overheard my father talking about the dowry he was arranging for my marriage to a 76 year old man. That is when I decided to run away. I found refuge in a catholic church. Here, I was taken to school for the first time in my life. My father never stopped looking for me and at some point the church opted to refer me to HAART Kenya, as they considered HAART’s shelter to be a safer place for me.
At the shelter, I met many girls who had been through similar things. I slowly regained confidence. I also continued with my education and in 2017, HAART made it possible for me to enrol at a National polytechnic to pursue a diploma in office administration. I received my diploma in 2019. Soon after that I was able to secure an employment opportunity with one of the major supermarkets in Kenya as a cashier. I was set to be posted to one of their branches in April 2020. It felt like I was living my dream.
When the Coronavirus pandemic hit Kenya in March 2020, the government put in place measures to curb its spread, among them a national curfew and travel restrictions. A lot of businesses had to lay off staff to minimize their losses. Unfortunately, I was among the affected ones. I received an email from the supermarket management that my job placement had been postponed indefinitely. This came as a shock to me because I had been working so hard towards my new life. I am currently struggling to buy food and pay rent as I used up all my savings. I really hope I can stay strong until this pandemic is over and I can start my new life.
Narrative provided by HAART Kenya