How a Child Champion and a Gift
Helped Stop an Early Marriage

By Donna Atola, Kenya Field Content Specialist

A Child Champion’s intervention and a gift from a sponsor come just time to save a Kenyan girl from dropping out of school to be married off.

A young woman walks away from camera along a dusty path among scrup brush

Life became even harder during the pandemic.

Tirati was in grade seven when schools closed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to restrictions on gatherings, the Hope Center, too, wasn’t able to have the kids attend their Saturday program.

But Child Champions continued ministering to the kids by visiting them in their homes with reading materials to help them keep up with their education.

Tirati lives with her family of seven in a small, remote village in Kajiado, Kenya.

During that time, one of Tirati’s aunts visited them at home. As she was leaving, she asked Tirati’s father, David, to allow her take Tirati home with her so that Tirati could visit with her cousins.

Since this was his sister, David allowed Tirati to go with her. But a visit that was supposed to have lasted less than a month stretched into more than seven months in 2020.

A Troubled Homecoming

David finally decided to bring Tirati back home when school resumed. But she was not settling into school well.

She complained of headaches, so her teachers let her go home, and she spent the first week of school at home.

Tirati’s mother, Doris, says she tried giving her daughter pain relievers to no avail.

Doris then decided to take her to a nearby dispensary where the nurse revealed that Tirati was pregnant.

“Of all things, that was what I least expected,” says Doris. “I was blind to any signs and symptoms. My fear then was how I was going to break the news to her father.”

Tirati’s family had a hard decision to make.

Later in the day when they were at home, they broke the news to Tirati’s father.

“I was shocked, but I tried not to be angry,” says David.

“Because culturally, we believe that the anger of a father toward his daughter when she is expecting could cause bad luck, including a miscarriage. Yet she was nearing her due date.”

David then learned that Tirati had gotten pregnant while visiting her aunt, and a boy from her aunt’s village was the one responsible.

Hard Decisions

After she delivered her son, Tirati had to stay at home to nurse her baby. During that time her family contemplated forcing her to marry the father of her child.

Child Champion Gloria helped convince Tirati’s father to not marry her off and to go back to school.

“After I realized that my daughter was pregnant and that her bright future had been brought to a halt, I wanted to report the matter to the village chief, but men around the community advised me to marry her off,” David recalls.

He says the idea of early marriage was not unusual because he had seen other parents in their village marry off their daughters when they got pregnant.

That meant their daughters who were still in school dropped out.

“It’s normal here, and I have seen it happen to others,” says David. “A pregnancy while in school automatically means dropping out of school, and parents force their kids to get married to the person responsible for the pregnancy.”

Besides it being a normal practice in their village, David says the level of poverty in the homes has parents turning to marrying off their daughters to avoid the burden of taking care of their daughters and the babies.

“Without resources, it’s easy to give up,” David says. “Mistakes like an early pregnancy cause most parents to run away from the responsibility of caring for their kids, so they choose to marry off the girl as a way of shifting responsibility to someone else. And that’s where I was.”

But David says that at the back of his mind, the love he has for his daughter made him resist the idea of forcing her to marry.

A Life-Changing Phone Call

In the days following the birth of Tirati’s baby, David thought deeply about the idea of marriage. And just as he was pondering his next move, he received a call from her Hope Center.

Gloria, who was then the new Child Champion at the Hope Center, had called to let David know that Tirati had received a gift fund from her sponsor. She asked them to visit the Hope Center the following day to discuss what they would do with the gift fund.

Tirati reads a letter from her sponsor, who sent her a gift fund.

That’s when David told Gloria what had happened at home.

“Her gift came in at a time when we at the center were seeking to know how each child is doing and accounting for them,” Gloria says.

“I had realized that the girl was not coming to the center on the days when she was scheduled to, and whenever I went to her home to inquire, I was told she was visiting her aunt for a short period. So when the gift came in, I probed further and told them that I would only turn over the gift if I saw the girl.”

After a lengthy talk with David, Gloria realized that the family had no plans to allow their girl to go back to school because they were planning on marrying her off.

But after Gloria talked with David, they came to the decision to send her back to school, once she was able to leave her baby at home.

Hope Rekindled

David says Gloria’s call and the gift from the sponsor were not only a turning point but also the hope they needed because they were in despair.

“I wondered deeply how a sponsor who is far away still cared for my daughter’s future, yet I was giving up on her,” David recalls. “A voice deep down kept asking me if I truly loved my daughter and whether the pregnancy should really keep her from a second chance in chasing her dreams.”

Tirati’s parents care for her baby while she goes to school.

He adds, “Gloria gave me hope when I was in a dark place. I still remember feeling a sigh of relief after receiving that call from her.

“She talked to me so gently and wisely. I wonder what life would have become if that call had never come through.

“I am also grateful to the sponsor for the gift. It helped ease our burden and also brought hope because we were in despair. I am so grateful to the sponsor!”

As much as he wanted to push for a marriage between his daughter and the other boy, he knew it wasn’t right. They both were considered children according to Kenyan law because they were both under 18.

David later spoke to his daughter about going back to school. As he spoke to her, he saw Tirati’s eyes light up.

“I knew she regretted, and because of how things were to turn out she had given up. So as I told her about considering going back to school, I saw hope in the way her eyes lit up.”

Once Tirati was ready to resume school, her gift fund was used to pay her school fees and the family also bought two goats.

Her father had been struggling to pay her school fees because the family’s income is very low, and they struggle to provide for their family of seven. David works in a sand mine, where he loads sand into trucks for the equivalent of $12 weekly.

Doris helps by milking their few cattle and selling the milk.

Tirati’s son is under the care of her parents as she goes to school. She hopes to become a teacher in the future.

Working for Transformation

Gloria says early marriages aren’t as rampant as they used to be, but they still happen in secret. She says this is because the community lacks a strong child protection system.

She also says most teens lack knowledge about responsible sexual behavior in their teenage years, which leads them to seek knowledge among themselves and even experiment to feed their curiosity, resulting in early pregnancies.

At the Hope Center, Gloria and Paul, the Child Champions, are working to bring change in their village by organizing quarterly meetings with parents to educate them on child protection. They hope that by engaging the parents, they can help strengthen the systems in the community.

They also call in experts to speak to the teens and allow them to freely share their thoughts.

“I am friends with the teens at the center,” says Gloria. “I have allowed them to trust me, so they come to me with all kinds of questions. I also ask them to look out for each other when they are away from the center.”

Your gift to OneChild’s Partners Fund will help provide vital care like meeting urgent needs, funding major projects, and opening more Hope Centers, like the one Tirati attends, across the globe.

 

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