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

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid