Kakenya Ntaiya Testifies on Child Marriage at House of Representatives

The following is a post writen by Vital Voices Human Rights Program intern, Kait Talley.

On July 14, the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on forced child marriage to garner support for the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2009.

Speaking at the hearing, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who authored the bill, said, “A girl is not a commodity, but a person who has the right to grow, become an educated and productive citizen and eventually chose her own husband.”

Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, urged those present to “put child marriage in the dustbin of history.”

Vital Voices Global Leadership Award honoree Kakenya Ntaiya of Kenya offered testimony on her experience with child marriage. Engaged to be married at age five, Kakenya managed to negotiate with her father and attend school instead of entering intoåŹmarriage. She said involving fathers in their daughters’ education can make a great difference in preventingåŹchild marriage. Watch Kakenya’s video to learn more.

In her remarks, she emphasized the role of education:

“Education is the key-the key to not only a better future for an individual, but also for a better nation at large. Education brings development to a home, a community, a nation and to the whole world. And most importantly it prevents early marriage. Education is the key to empowerment.”

Kakenya explained how she was able to achieve her own dreams through education. In 2009, she opened a school,åŹThe Kakenya Center for Excellence, where she provides education to girls who might otherwise be forced into marriage.

UNICEF Senior Child Protection Specialist, Francesca Moneti, commented on the connection between forced child marriage and women’s health: “child pregnancy is the single most important problem in nutrition. A 19-year-old mother has a 60 percent greater chance of dying than a woman in her twenties.”

Stephanie Baric, senior technical advisor of CARE USA, said that “[change] requires a holistic view of the situation and the patience and long-term focus to work with communities to create change from within.”

After the testimonies, Congressman McGovern said, “I end this hearing with hope,” and thanked the panelists and those who attended for their continued efforts to bring an end to forced child marriage.