13 Jun 2023

New Walk Free resource supports faith leaders to advocate for stronger action to address child and forced marriage in Kenya

Walk Free and Global Freedom Network (GFN), in collaboration with the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) has launched a comprehensive guide for faith leaders, equipping them with effective strategies to advocate against the alarming practices of child and forced marriage.

Faith leaders attending a workshop on strategies to end child and forced marriage in Kenya. Photo Credit: IRCK.

“Kenyan advocacy on child and forced marriage: A guide for faith leaders” provides practical guidance to equip faith leaders to advocate for strengthening of the national response to forced marriage in Kenya.

The development of this guide involved extensive collaboration and consultation with Kenyan theologians and faith leaders, ensuring its authenticity and relevance. It incorporates key advocacy messages rooted in the teachings of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, serving as a powerful tool to bolster faith leaders’ advocacy efforts. These highlighted messages provide a solid foundation for faith leaders to advocate effectively within their respective communities.

Forced marriage, including child marriage, is a form of modern slavery – a situation a person cannot refuse or leave due to threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power. An estimated 269,000 people are living in modern slavery in Kenya according to Walk Free’s 2023 Global Slavery Index. This includes people in forced labour and forced marriage. The drivers of child and forced marriage in Kenya vary widely across regions and communities, yet common factors include poverty and low economic value placed on girls, lack of education, traditional cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, and adolescent pregnancy. Risks are exacerbated in the context of crises, including natural disasters, conflicts, and epidemics.

Forced marriage deprives people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms and undermines the social fabric of society. Yet faith leaders are uniquely placed to make a difference – as custodians of their faiths and pillars of the communities they serve, faith leaders can play a vital role in raising awareness and transforming attitudes to engender lasting positive change.

Chairman of IRCK, Rev. Fr. Joseph Mutie, said “Not only is the practice unlawful – it is not consistent with our religious beliefs. We must sensitise faith communities to the adverse impacts of child and forced marriage, to advocate for greater government action to address the issue, and to strengthen our collective efforts to eliminate the practice.”

The Head of GFN, Franca Pellegrini, said “Faith leaders have a unique role to play in tackling child and forced marriage as they see into the hearts of their communities. As well as influencing beliefs and attitudes in their communities, they can engage in dialogue with other organisations and government agencies to raise awareness of this harmful practice and advocate for change.”

IRCK’s tradition of interfaith cooperation offers a promising model to tackle complex social issues such as modern slavery. In March 2022, a landmark event held by GFN and IRCK saw faith leaders come together to commit to action to tackle modern slavery in Kenya, signing the Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery. In July 2022, Walk Free and GFN launched a partnership with IRCK to support this effort, with a particular focus on strengthening the government’s response to child and forced marriage. The guide for faith leaders examines the nature of child and forced marriage in Kenya, and outlines existing laws and policies on the subject, as well as gaps in the national response.

Kenya has a relatively strong legal framework to combat child marriage: it is one of few countries around the world to explicitly prohibit the marriage of children under 18 with no exceptions, pursuant to the Marriage Act, 2014. However, gaps in the legal framework mean not all forms of forced marriage where consent has not been given have been criminalised. Further, many protections enshrined in national legislation are not fully enforced.

These gaps represent key opportunities for faith leaders to advocate for a stronger national response to forced marriage. The guide features advocacy strategies and tools to equip faith leaders in this endeavour. In the next phase of the project, with support from Walk Free and GFN, IRCK will disseminate the guide among the faith community, and support faith leaders in Kenya to implement advocacy campaigns to address child and forced marriage.

The guide can be downloaded here.

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