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What is the prevalence of Child Marriage in Kenya 

With up to 4.2 million girls (23%) married before 18 years, and 1 million girls married by the age of 15 years, Kenya has the one of the highest absolute numbers of child brides in the world . Child marriage is commonest among the Pokot people who live in the Northern region where 64% of girls are married before 18.  

In addition a 2017 UNICEF study found that  3% of boys in Kenya are married by 18; with the highest rates registered in the Pokot people where 38% of boys are married before 18 years, followed the Somali population where 14% of boys are married by 18.

Causes of Child Marriage in Kenya

In Kenya, child marriage is exacerbated by:


 As shown in chart 1 above, girls from poor households are four times as likely to be married off before 18 than those from wealthy households. This is because they are considered as financial assets and exchanged most times by their fathers for bride price.  

Low Levels of education: 

According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014, girls with no education in Kenya are 24% more likely (62%) to get married before 18 than those with primary education (38%). On the other hand, only 7% of girls with secondary education are at risk of getting married before 18. A major hinderance to girl education is parents who pull them out of school as soon as they menstruate in anticipation for marriage.  

Harmful traditional practices: 

  • The beading custom among the Samburu people which allows men to engage a girl as young as 6 years by placing a bead around her neck with the consent of her parents.
  • Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): which is widely practiced among the Kuria, Maasai, Turkana and Rendille and is done from the age of 9 years. Girls who are circumcised are paid highly for in terms of bride price
  • Marrying off pregnant adolescents: this is used to protect the family name and prestige and to attract a higher bride price from the perpetrator. Particularly in the Kuria culture, pregnant girls are married off to men whose wives have not born them sons. Overall the society  

Natural disasters and climate change: Drought conditions deteriorated in Kenya in 2017, resulting in 6 million food insecure people requiring humanitarian assistance. UNICEF reported that children were at increased risk of being separated from families, dropping out of school and being married off as a survival tactic. According to Maasai girls’ rights activists prolonged droughts prompt many families to give away young girls as brides in exchange for cattle. The long walk in search of water also exposes young girls to sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies, which may in turn initiate an early marriage.
Displacement: As of November 2019, Kenya hosted nearly half a million refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – countries with high prevalence of child marriage. While we lack concrete evidence of child marriage taking place in Kenyan refugee camps, available literature indicates that displacement increases girls’ vulnerability to child marriage due to the breakdown of social networks, the lack of protection systems and the increased risk of sexual violence.

What’s the minimum age for marriage 

  • Under the Marriage Act 2014 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years with no exceptions.
  • In addition, the Counter Trafficking in Persons Act, 2010 classifies child labour, child marriage and sexual exploitation as forms of exploitation.

International, Regional and national commitments made to End Child Marriage in Kenya

What is the government doing to End Child Marriage 

  • The National Plan of Action for Children in Kenya (2015-2022) acknowledges that child marriage leads to physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children and that public awareness targeting barazas (community meetings), families and children is important.
  • The National Plan against Sexual Exploitation of Children in Kenya (2018-2022) recognises child marriage as a harmful practice that contributes to child sexual abuse and exploitation, and it envisions activities to engage men as community champions in reducing child marriage.
  • In October 2016, the Gender Department and Anti-FGM Board within the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender led the development of a draft National Plan of Action on Child Marriage. This process involved Girls Not Brides members, and consultations led by UNICEF Kenya are continuing. However, as of 2020 this National Plan is not finalised.
  • UNICEF Kenya and the Australian High Commission organised a Stakeholders Meeting on Child Marriage in November 2017, where the #ENDChildMarriageKE campaign was launched.
  • Kenya is one of the Phase II focus countries of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C (2018–2021).
  • District Probation Offices are active within several areas of Kenya and are responsible for rehabilitating child marriage survivors, investigating cases of child marriage, making recommendations to relevant authorities and sensitising communities on the consequences of child marriage.


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  2. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, (accessed January 2020).
  3. African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013, (accessed January 2020).
  4. Agency for Development Research, A Study on Child Marriage in Kenya, 2011
  5. European Commission, Kenya, [website], 2020, (accessed February 2020).
  6. Girls Not Brides, Child marriage in humanitarian settings, 2018, (accessed February 2020).
  7. Global Partnership for Education, Kenya, [website], (accessed February 2020).
  8. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Demographic and Health Survey 2014, 2015, .
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  12. Ministry of Labour And Social Protection, National Plan against Sexual Exploitation of Children in Kenya (2018-2022), 2018
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  21. UNHCR, Kenya Statistics Package, November 2019, 
  22. UNICEF DATA, Percentage of girls and women aged 15-49 years who have undergone FGM (by place of residence and household wealth quintile), February 2020, 
  23. UNICEF global databases 2020, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), and other national surveys. Population data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. Rev. 1. .
  24. UNICEF, 2017 Mid-Year Humanitarian Situation Report Kenya, 2017, 
  25. UNICEF, Baseline Study Report: Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting and Child Marriage among the Rendille, Maasai, Pokot, Samburu and Somali Communities in Kenya, 2017
  26. UNICEF, Family Assets. Understanding and Addressing Child Marriage in Turkana, 2016, .
  27. UNICEF, Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Kenya 2017, 2018.
  28. UNICEF, UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation,[website].
  29. United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017,  .
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