The rare rescue of a 12-year-old Kenyan girl forced to marry and have sex with a man almost three times her age shows community policing is key to ending child marriage, campaigners said on Tuesday.
The girl, who cannot be named to protect her identity, was rescued by police and charity workers from a remote village near Kenya’s southwestern border with Tanzania on Saturday following a tip-off through a neighborhood watch initiative.
The local head of Nyumba Kumi - which means 10 households in Kiswahili - said a community member had raised the alert late on Friday.
“I immediately informed security teams on the ground as well as the non-governmental organization that we work with in such matters,” John Paa said in a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“I am glad that the community policing is working. We have been teaching our members and urging them to immediately report female genital mutilation, early marriage, security and parents who deny their children a chance to go to school.”
Almost one in four girls in Kenya are married before they reach the legal age of 18, says the United Nations. Many are also being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), which is seen as a “rite of passage” before they are wed.
Nyumba Kumi is a nationwide government initiative encouraging citizens to be vigilant and to report suspicious activities in their neighborhoods.
Campaigners said such initiatives were key to curbing violence against women and girls, especially in remote communities where the law is unknown or people are committing FGM and child marriage in secret.
“Community policing is a good strategy for protecting girls who are at risk of FGM or child marriage and we saw it work in this case,” said Felister Gitonga, program officer for campaign group Equality Now in Kenya.
“It helps members of the community to report to the authorities allowing duty bearers to take proactive measures to protect girls.”
Police and campaigners said the girl had been married to a 35-year-old man by her parents on Jan. 8. A medical examination showed that she had been forced to have sexual intercourse.
The victim’s mother and “husband” were arrested and charged with submitting a child to a sexual act and child marriage and child rape respectively, police said, adding that they were searching for the victim’s father and the groom’s parents.
“It is good that we were able to rescue her and take her to hospital as we seek to ensure that the perpetrators are taken to court,” said Lawrence Kinyua, a deputy county commissioner in Kajiado.
“The law cannot treat such people with any mercy so whoever wants to face the force of the law should try us.”