12-year-old Josphine* escaped being a child bride by the skin of her teeth in 2019.
When her father passed on earlier that year, her brothers decided to end her school-going days and marry her off.
However, Josphine, who was both determined to continue with her education, and not to get married at her age, went to the area government administrator Mr. William Todonyang, the Chief of Lokichar Location, West Pokot County, to seek intervention.
Unfortunately, Josphine’s story is not uncommon. Child marriage is widely practiced in the pastoralist communities of West Pokot County, located in the northwest part of Kenya, bordering Uganda.
As a result of the practice of child marriage and other factors, West Pokot county also has the third-highest teenage pregnancy rate in Kenya. One in three girls between the ages of thirteen and nineteen have either given birth or are pregnant with their first child.
It is because of these and other sexual and reproductive health and rights challenges that DSW is implementing a three-year project to secure the right of 7,000 boys and girls aged 10‐14 in Kilifi (Kaloleni sub-county) and West Pokot (North Pokot sub-county) to improved sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) by 2022. The project, dubbed Holistic Action Project for Young Adolescents (HAPA), started in 2019 and will run till 2022.
Community action for young adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health and rights
The Holistic Action Project for Young Adolescents (HAPA) recognises that sexual and reproductive health and rights challenges like child marriage, female genital mutilation and teenage pregnancy facing young adolescents can only be addressed by fostering a school and community environment supportive of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young adolescents.
DSW is supporting communities to do exactly that. In 2019, we supported the formation of five community action committees in Kilifi (Kaloleni sub-county) and West Pokot (North Pokot sub-county).
Through these community action committees, our target communities are working with the gender and health departments of the county governments, the ministry of education, the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC), the ministry of interior and other stakeholders to create a conducive community environment for young adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Community Action Committees are composed of representatives from the community, the local government, school administration, parents and other local decision-makers. The Community Action Committee is a local body that increases local communities’ awareness and support for the sexual and reproductive health and rights needs and issues of young adolescents. Community Action Committees discuss project-relevant topics and formulate recommendations that are also shared with local governments for further action.
These community action committees meet once every three months. Members of the Community Action Committee also engage in continuous community sensitisation activities on sexual and reproductive health matters affecting young adolescents.
The Holistic Action Project for Young Adolescents (HAPA) is a three-year intervention implemented by DSW in Kilifi (Kaloleni sub-county) and West Pokot (North Pokot sub-county).
*Not her real name
Josphine is currently attending a rescue school after Chief Todonyang’s intervention. The head teacher of the rescue school is working with various stakeholders to get Josphine financial support to enable her continue and complete her education.