From child brides and FGM survivors to leaders on a global stage

Photo shows young survivors and advocate girls sitting on a couch with a table directly in front holding a book. One of the three girls sitting on the sofa is speaking with another woman crouched in front of the sofa.
Caption: Survivors and advocates Nachaki, Rosillah and Eunice speak with advocate and psychotherapist Leyla Hussein at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. (L-R)
Photo: Elizabeth Pratt/Too Young to Wed

Monicah, 13, was astonished to learn that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not just an issue just within her community, in Kenya’s rural Samburu County. “I realized it we are not the only ones to practise FGM,” she said recently. “It is the whole world.”

In some countries, the practice is linked to child marriage, taking place when a girl is believed to have reached a “marriageable” age. This is what Monicah experienced when she was only 10 years old in the town of Suguta. After she was cut, she was married off to a 32-year-old man.

“My brother had ordered the marriage because he wanted the goats and cattle that could come as my bride price,” Monicah recounted.

Child bride becomes scholar and champion

Child marriage and female genital mutilation are human rights violations, widely banned around the world. Yet millions of girls continue to face these practices. Globally, one in every five girls is married before age 18, and it is estimated that some 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced female genital mutilation.

Both of these practices are illegal in Kenya, yet 21 per cent of women there, aged 15-49, have experienced female genital mutilation, according to a 2014 survey. Twenty-three per cent of women, aged 20-24, were married before age 18.

In Monicah’s case, things took a fortunate turn after the intervention of the police and two nongovernmental organizations, the Samburu Girls Foundation and Too Young to Wed.

“I stayed with my then-husband for one week, when the chief and police officers came and took me to Maralal Town, and eventually to the Samburu Girls Foundation,” she said.

After leaving her husband, Monicah received a multi-year scholarship from Too Young to Wed, and has since become one of the top performers in her class.

She has also become a proud champion for change, working with other survivors to end the practices that once left her life in disarray.

A voice on the world stage

Too Young to Wed facilitated a delegation of five Samburu child marriage survivors – all recipients of Too Young to Wed scholarships who were supported by the Samburu Girls Foundation – at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. The Summit brought together world leaders, policymakers and advocates from around the world to address urgent human rights and reproductive health issues. 

Monicah was among the delegation, which was also supported by the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage and the Samburu Girls Foundation. It was her first trip to the capital, she said.

Five girls stand, one in front of the others, while looking sideways at the camera, outside the Summit, wearing black ICPD 25 tee shirt and carrying colourful bags.

Caption: Survivors and advocates Rosillah, Nachaki, Modestar, Eunice and Monicah at the Nairobi Summit in Kenya.

Photo: Elizabeth Pratt/Too Young to Wed

She and her peers shared their stories with an audience of leaders and advocates, including Leyla Hussein, an expert in psychotherapy and girls’ rights; Chief Kachindamoto, who famously annulled hundreds of child marriages in Malawi, Girls Not Brides CEO Faith Mwangi-Powell; and Iraq Family Planning Association Chairperson Inas Ahmed. 

Eunice, who at the age of 10 was forced to marry a 75-year-old man, was another of the delegates. “Maybe some got inspired by my story,” she said after the conference. “They may go to change the world by helping girls who are going through challenges like I went through.”

She was particularly pleased by a brainstorming session she attended. “We had women from Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. They came up with ideas for ending FGM,” she said. 


Story produced by UNFPA.

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