I had already heard many disturbing stories of violence by the time I interviewed Mercy Maina, whose name I have changed to protect her privacy. Even so, what Mercy told me was truly disturbing. She said she was raped during the post-election violence in August alongside her sister by two men wearing uniforms and helmets, and carrying guns and walkie-talkies.
“You cannot continue with your education. You have to get married because this man has already paid dowry for you,” Matilda H’s father told her. Matilda, from Tanzania, was 14 and had just passed her primary school exams and had been admitted to secondary school. She pleaded with her father to allow her to continue her education, but he refused.
Mary K. loved to study and wanted to be an accountant. However, when she was 16 and in class six (grade eight), her father forced her to leave school to marry a 50-year-old man who paid him 60 cows.
Akech B. loved to study and dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when she was 14, her uncle who was raising her forced her to leave school to marry a man Akech described as old and gray-haired. The man paid 75 cows as dowry for Akech. He was already married to another woman with whom he had several children.
Victoria J. married in 2009 at age 14, and became pregnant shortly after. “I started labour in the morning on a Friday …. The nurse kept checking and saying I would deliver safely. On Monday she said I was weak.
Three years ago, the African Union began a continent-wide campaign to reduce the number of women who die when pregnant or giving birth.