I am a runaway bride, this is what they call me in my village and I am embracing it with no shame, I am happy they call me that because I am the only girl who managed to run away from this inhuman tradition they call culture
“Naipei” 13 year old Masaai girl

These are the powerful words of a 13 year old girl I met in Kenya when I was doing some work in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. I had gone to conduct a community dialogue forum with the area local leaders. It was in this forum where I met Naipei in school uniform who was so confident and was playing with other children. It was lunch time and they had come to meet one of the woman local leaders and I guessed they were going back to school. Her uniform was neat and very clean, her eyes exuded confidence but at the same time shy, you could see the innocence in her face even when she was walking confidently you could see she is afraid and fragile. She was like a wounded being that is fighting back to change their situation and knows what their rights are. I was stricken by her beauty and her confidence level at that age. She was very respectful even in the manner she addressed people who knew her at the forum. I could not hide that I was kind of interested to know her. Just when I was about to say hello, I heard one of the children calling her in joking manner “bibi harusi”, a Swahili word meaning bride. This got me curious and I wanted to know her more. I asked her politely if she could speak to me later after school. I spoke to one of the women leaders Mrs. Apale to organize for me to meet the school going girls from that area however my interest was to meet Naipei. I was eager to meet her and speak to her and know her better.

At 4:00pm five girls came to meet me and my colleague. Their ages range between 11-16years. All my attention was at Naipei who I had met earlier and I wanted to know her more. So I asked her please tell me why do they call you bibi harusi? She took a deep breath and started sharing her story,

They call me bibi harusi and I had to accept and embrace that however every time I think about it, tears come into my eyes when I remembered that day I cry so much. I know God did not bring me to this world to pass through all these inhuman acts in the name of culture. My name is Naipei Supuko* I am 13 year, I come from one of the tribe in Kenya that practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forces girls and marry off girls as young as 10 years. I remember when I was 10 years when my parents said I am growing up too fast. In my father’s words “Naipei you are already a big girl and it is that time that you are turned into a full grown women and start having your own family” What? I wondered I thought I was still young still I school and I am still a child. I did not understand what having my family meant. I had heard about the cut and I thought it happened to older girls. I cried that day and spoke to my mother not to allow my father to get me cut. I tried to refuse but my mother said she has no powers to do anything. I remember it was on a Sunday morning and I saw a huge crowd in my homestead. Every day I could see elders talking but it did not bother me as my dad is known very well in the village. So this was unusual Sunday women are happy, food is being cooked and celebrating. I did not know what was going on. My mother came to me and was happy that I am finally going to bring more wealth (livestock) in the family. Two of my aunties took me to a nearby home they undressed me and I was cut. It was so painful, I bled so much all I could see was blood and blared vision. I passed out. The only thing I remember was the following day still in pain being introduced to an old man who is to be my husband. I was still in pain with this wound and I am married. I was escorted by my mother and relatives to this old man’s home. A bride at 10 years, expected to start a family. I could not stop crying. At night the old man tried to force himself on me (sobbing heavily), I wanted to stop him but my small body could not, he had managed to remove my skirt. I promise him that I would do as he says but he should allow me to go to the toilet. He agreed and that is when I ran away. For two days I walked and walked and walked, I was still bleeding but I knew I would rather die that be a wife. I got to town met Mrs. Apale* (a leader of a CBO) who linked me up with the children officer. I was rescued. I was a bride for one day I got lucky but my friends did not. It has been two years now I am in school and I am happy to thank God and Mrs Apale for her help.

This story if not new, the statistics are so heartbreaking. When will we stop girls to be girls? When will we stop violating children’s rights in the pretence of culture? When will we stop these retrogressive cultures that rob girls their rights to education, right to choice, right to actualize their full potential?

One third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. In 2010, 67 million women 20-24 around the world had been married before the age of 18.

If present trends continue, 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. That’s an average of 14.2 million girls each year. This is not the #FutureWeWant and not the #AfricaWeWant, let girls be girls, girls are not brides.

The world Girl’s Summit 2014 kicks off today in London. The Summit is aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) within a generation. Many organization and young girls attending the summit will speak with one voice that of making sure that there exist not CEFM and FGM. We are calling for collective action to end these inhuman acts. It is our responsibility.

“We need to change these stories, Culture is not static; we can change it, make it better and make it respect human and children’s rights.” Esther Kimani

 

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