Kenya (MNN) — Kenya’s president ordered an investigation earlier this month into rising reports of teen pregnancy and gender-based violence. Lockdowns intended to stop COVID-19 reportedly led to isolation and abuse.
Calls to helplines rose more than tenfold since officials imposed restrictions in late March, Reuters reports. Plus, there’s an economic factor. “Open-air markets are not open, where they (Kenyans) typically would go and sell their livestock to get money,” Joy Mueller of Kenya Hope explains.
“By marrying off their girls, the bride price provides [the] funds they need to survive right now.”
To end this exploitation and abuse, Kenya Hope is waging war against contributing factors. Prevention is a critical part of ministry efforts.
Prevention through protection
Typically, education provides Kenyan girls and young women with three layers of protection. Empowerment is the first layer; students gain the tools and skills they need to rise above poverty through education. Then, instructors come alongside as a support network.
“With schools being closed, they (girls) have lost their advocates, which were the female teachers and headmistresses,” Mueller explains.
“Schools in Kenya will not be opening until January, [which] puts a lot of pressure on our communities and the young girls to stay safe, and keep them safe during this extended time off.”
Distance is the third protective factor. Many Kenyan children attend boarding schools, physically separating them from abusive family relationships. Coronavirus lockdowns in March closed these facilities, forcing students to return home.
“Our partners on the ground have noticed quite an increase in the number of young girls that are one, getting pregnant; and, two, being married off at a younger age,” Mueller notes.
As described here, poverty is a major contributing factor to child marriage.
Prevention through relief aid
Kenya Hope operates in rural communities, where most people earn a living by selling livestock or produce at open-air markets. When pandemic restrictions closed those markets, families lost more than an income – they lost a food source.
School closures cut off another supply chain. “Without school in session, our regular feeding program isn’t running. All of the families in our community depended on that feeding program to provide their children with at least one meal a day,” Mueller says.
Circumstances like these present parents with an impossible choice: starve or sell a child and use the money to buy food.
Thanks to Kenya Hope’s food aid program, families don’t have to choose. “We are so grateful; each month, hundreds of families have been helped by this, and we will continue to give as long as He continues to provide,” Mueller says.
A bean crop planted earlier this year supplies added benefit. “God knew way back in January when we planned to plant five acres of beans [how they would help].”
“Whatever you give is a tremendous blessing, and will be used exactly how you intended,” Mueller says.
Header image depicts a young Kenyan girl. Photo courtesy of Kenya Hope.