News / Africa

    Masai Woman Makes Rescuing Girls from Early Marriage Life Mission

    Masai girls, now in school instead of being married young, at Priscilla Nangurai's rescue center in Kajiado, Kenya, July 13, 2012. (VOA/Jill Craig)
    Masai girls, now in school instead of being married young, at Priscilla Nangurai's rescue center in Kajiado, Kenya, July 13, 2012. (VOA/Jill Craig)
    Jill Craig
    KAJIADO, Kenya – In traditional Masai culture, fathers often promise their young daughters in marriage to older men. Most girls are between the ages of 12 and 14, with some even younger. Not only are their bodies too immature to deal with sexual intercourse and childbirth, but they are also usually forced to drop out of school. One Masai woman is on a personal quest to rescue these girls from early marriage, in addition to helping her community understand the benefits of educating their daughters.

    Priscilla Nangurai knows the hardships faced by Masai women. Her older sister was forced into marriage at a young age, but insisted that Nangurai be given an education instead of taking the same path. As a result, she was able to become a teacher, allowing her to rescue other girls from forced marriage.

    Officially retired since 2005, Nangurai runs GRACE -- the Girls’ Rights, Attention, Care and Education rescue center -- from her backyard in Kajiado, Kenya. There, she ensures the girls receive an education.

    Nangurai says that the problem begins when the girl is very young - and sometimes not yet even born. She explains the concept of "booking" a wife.

    “Booking is when a parent, or a man, wants to marry from a certain family. So he can go to the family and if there are little girls there, he will book," she explained. "If one of the wives is expectant, he will say, ‘I want something from this womb.’ And he’s allowed to do that.”

    Roseline, 14, has been at Nangurai’s rescue center since 2008. She was four years old when she was booked to a man she estimates was about 60 to 70 years old.

    “Yes, I was booked. But when I knew the person they had booked me, I just talked to Mrs. Nangurai and told her the whole story and then (s)he told me, ‘I will come and take you,” Roseline recalled.

    In Masai culture, once the booking has been made, the man starts paying dowry to the girl’s father. Traditionally the payment is made in cows, although today, money can also be exchanged. Once the girl’s father and the husband-to-be determine that the marriage will soon take place, the girl must undergo female circumcision, otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation.

    Priscilla, 13, was brought to the rescue center when she was five, thanks to her mother who was adamant that her daughter receive an education. Priscilla says that health concerns alone make her thankful that she didn’t have to undergo circumcision. She is especially concerned with HIV - another threat.

    “They don’t circumcise one person with one razor blade. Maybe when we are two girls, they can use this one to the first girl and then they use it again to another one. So that’s why I don’t want that,” she says.

    Priscilla says that sometimes the circumciser doesn’t even have a razor blade, instead using a piece of scrap metal. Once married, girls continue to suffer the physical toll.
    “Physically, the child is not ready for sexual intercourse, for giving birth and I’ve seen that most of the girls that get married early, give birth to still babies," Nangurai explained. "We have records from the district hospital. Then, giving birth, is very, very difficult for them. And, most of them have to have a Cesarean section, when they are giving birth, the first birth. Because they are very young, 13 years, 14 years. Really, these are children, giving birth to children.”

    Traditionally, the practice of early marriage was used to cement bonds between families and to protect and increase wealth, which was measured in cows.

    “Let me say, in the olden days, the Masai were very wealthy. They had huge numbers of animals. So he brought in many wives, to take care of his wealth," she said. "But now there’s nothing to take care of, because they are diminishing. Because of poverty, and because of persisting droughts, the animals are dying. So they don’t have that kind of animals now. But they still want to be recognized at [the] village level, by your age-mates. ‘Oh, I have five wives,’ ‘I have six wives.’ The more wives you have, the wealthier you are.”

    Priscilla says that the Masai should educate all the girls, who will later find good jobs and be able to support their families. She says the dowry payment of cows is only short-term gain.

    “The cattle can come, you have given [them] away, and your future is over. But now, if you’re educated, you can continue to help your village and help your family,” she said.
    Nangurai says that it is not easy to change deeply engrained cultural views. But she refuses to give up.

    “When I retired, the men really rejoiced, I hear there were celebrations. Because ‘Oh, she has retired, we can do what we want,'” she recalled.

    Nangurai has rescued more than 700 girls since 1986. She now has 15 girls at her center and is building a dormitory to house up to 80 girls.

    You May Like

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Nats from: Lagos
    July 18, 2012 3:55 PM
    Early marriage is a problem for many African communities. I Abakaliki, Nigeria, it was the norm until recently. It must stop. There is an urgent need to train African girls because the women are taking over from the men as family heads.

    by: Nats from: Lagos Nigeria
    July 18, 2012 3:52 PM
    I pray he survives so that he can stop the on-going state terror against freedom of speech and the senseless incarceration of Ethiopians who use the social media.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.