These Girls Are Being Cut and Married in Droves

In Samburu County, economic and social strife from the pandemic is helping turn a generation of girls into commodities.

A deep, sonorous melody pierces the night sky when young Samburu warriors celebrate an impending marriage. These songs, which echo across the arid plains of rural northern Kenya, are beautiful. They also often herald danger for girls in the region’s pastoralist communities — and during the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve grown alarmingly more frequent.

Selected by her family to marry an older man she’d never met, 10-year-old Jacinta was taken from her bed in Samburu County early one morning in August and doused in a mixture of milk and water before being painted from head to toe in red ocher — the traditional preparations for a genital cutting ceremony, a near-compulsory procedure for Samburu girls on the cusp of marriage.

“I didn’t know they would marry me off,” said Jacinta, speaking from her husband’s home through a translator. But when she was subjected to the cutting, often called female genital mutilation, she said, “I realized I was going to be married off.”

As the world has focused on combating the coronavirus, a parallel pandemic no less devastating has struck communities like Jacinta’s. Curfews, quarantines and lockdowns to suppress the virus have aggravated existing economic and social strife; these conditions, in turn, have hurt efforts to combat child marriage and genital cutting.

For now, information about child marriages and genital cutting in the pandemic remains largely anecdotal. Accurate data on rates of child marriage in Kenya and elsewhere is difficult to come by in normal times. Cases are only infrequently reported to law enforcement, and communities dispute the legitimacy of national laws against child marriage and cutting.

But the pandemic appears to be leading to a surge in child marriages and the cutting ceremonies that can precede them — a young bride can fetch a considerable price, securing livestock, blankets, food and money for her struggling parents and siblings. Girls are also being coerced into sex in exchange for basic necessities, leading to unexpected pregnancies that in turn create pressure to marry.

“Covid-19 has just been a disaster — These girls are being cut and married in droves,” said Sayydah Garrett, the co-founder and president of the Pastoralist Child Foundation in Samburu County.

Josephine Kulea, founder and executive director of the Samburu Girls Foundation, said her organization had referred more than 500 new cutting and child marriage cases to the authorities between March and September, a steep rise over previous periods.

And according to Domtila Chesang, founder and director of the I Rep Foundation in West Pokot County, another pastoralist area in Kenya, forced marriages and cutting have spiked during the pandemic. “Girls are not safe in their own homes,” she said in a broadcast interview with my colleague. “With time, things are going to skyrocket.”

Sexual violence against girls surged by 230 percent after schools closed this spring, according to calls logged from March to September by the national child protection hotline. Because gender-based violence is consistently underreported worldwide, this number is likely to be a gross underestimate; it doesn’t account for tens of thousands of girls without access to phones or the knowledge that they can call for help.

Before the pandemic, an underage girl somewhere in the world was forced into marriage every two seconds. With Covid-19 still on the rise, the United Nations says an additional 13 million child marriages could occur over the next decade — the result of factors from the consequences of the economic slowdown to the disruption of programs seeking to prevent these marriages.

In northern Kenya, the pandemic has combined with the effects of climate change and the sudden loss of safari tourism. Naeku, 15, had been studying at boarding school — a safe haven providing critical support beyond education — when her school suddenly closed in the spring and she had to return home. She found a household battling starvation.

“Sometimes we go hungry and can’t find clothes to put on,” she said. That’s why her mother “started marrying us off,” she said, referring to herself and her sisters, “so that she can find money to bring up her other children.”

Despite national laws and international agreements against child marriage, it remains a persistent threat to the human rights, lives and health of girls in more than 100 countries.

Kenya, in fact, has outlawed child marriage and genital cutting. But while President Uhuru Kenyatta has pledged to eradicate child marriage by the end of this year and cutting by 2022, turning aspirational statements into real change is difficult work, even without a pandemic.

Girls in nations that have not taken such steps have likely fared far worse.

Yet Mr. Kenyatta seemed to undercut his pledge in July by cracking down on clinics offering contraceptives to underage girls, saying the practice encouraged promiscuity. Experts worry that as more girls become pregnant, their fears of the social and economic consequences of revealing their pregnancy, combined with clinic closures and the disruptions of the supply of abortion pills, will lead to an escalation in unsafe, makeshift abortions.

In the best of times, girls still lag in pastoral communities in Kenya when it comes to the keys to upward mobility, such as access to secondary education, and are among the last to receive resources. For millions of girls forced to marry and give birth during this pandemic, how do we salvage their rights to safety, health and education?

At minimum, girls who survive these traumas need financial support, reproductive and mental health care, child care and the resources to return to school. The authorities must prosecute perpetrators. Chiefs and other authorities should aid girls in annulling their marriages. In the Dedza District of Malawi, the paramount chief, Theresa Kachindamoto, told me she had annulled about 2,549 child marriages over the years.

More global and local investment is critical to prevent further harm to vulnerable girls around the world, including rigorous accountability mechanisms and enforcement of policies. To lead by example and reinforce a commitment to protecting girls, the United States must also bring its domestic laws in sync with its global rhetoric by restoring a federal ban on genital cutting and enacting one on child marriage.

These are critical concerns for girls like Jacinta who hoped for, and deserved, so much more.

“I really wanted to go to school,” she said softly. “I really wanted to become a teacher.”


Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/10/opinion/kenya-covid-child-marriage.html?fbclid=IwAR3vfsaKBvq-oiD6ozrfxRKWbh7W-jmiEEhyIcuFdFmzIZf4LLqEO6__MQM

Seminar “Kawin Anak dalam Perspektif Agama”

Rabu 27/4/2016, seminar dengan tajuk “Kawin Anak dalam Perspektif Agama” diselenggarakan oleh YKP (Yayasan Kesehatan Perempuan) pada pukul 09.00 – 13.00, bekerja sama dengan Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Keluarga Berencana Kabupaten Cianjur.

Pembicara dalam seminar ini adalah Tini Hadad dan Erna Lestari dari YKP, dan Mukti Ali, yang merupakan narasumber dari Rumah Kita Bersama. Peserta yang hadir dalam seminar tersebut adalah para tokoh agama, ustadz/ustadzah pengasuh pesantren, kyai, ajengan setempat, ibu-ibu Muslimat dan Fatayat NU, para aktivis gender, pejabat BPPKB, dan para pemerhati isu kawin anak.

Tini Hadad sekilas memperkenalkan YKP dan menjelaskan tentang hasil penelitian perkawinan anak yang dilakukan oleh YKP secara umum. Tini Hadad juga menceritakan tentang proses para aktivis NGO, khususnya YKP, dalam melakukan judicial review batasan usia kawin dari 16 tahun ke 18 tahun ke Mahkamah Konstitusi yang pada akhirnya ditolak. Padahal para aktivis NGO sudah membawa pakar dan ahli agama, yaitu Prof. Dr. Quraish Shihab. Akan tetapi, dari perwakilan ormas Islam, yaitu MUI, Muhammadiyah, dan NU dengan argumentasi agama menolaknya. Dan penolakan MK itu diambil dari argumentasi agama yang diajukan para perwakilan ormas Islam tersebut.

Seminar kemudian dilanjutkan oleh pemaparan Erna Lestari, peneliti YKP, yang mempresentasikan hasil temuan lapangan kawin anak yang dilakukan tim peneliti YKP, khususnya hasil penelitian di Cianjur. Erna menjelaskan penyebab dan dampak kawin anak secara umum. Penyebab kawin anak yang didapatkan di lapangan yaitu paksaan orangtua, patuh terhadap ibu dan bapak, tabu menolak tawaran lamaran, takut zina, dan kehamilan tidak dikehendaki. Sedangkan dampak dari perkawinan anak yaitu tingginya angka kematian ibu dan anak, melahirkan anak difabel, kemiskinan, dan pendidikan yang rendah. Erna menyatakan bahwa di Cianjur angka kawin anak sangat tinggi, mencapai 90% lebih. Dan tim YKP menemukan perbedaan pandangan antara kalangan lelaki dan kalangan perempuan dalam menyikapi kawin anak yang ada di lapangan. Kalangan lelaki kebanyakan menyatakan agar menyegerakan anak perempuannya dinikahkan. Sedangkan kalangan perempuan kebanyakan menginginkan agar anak perempuannya dinikahkan setelah dewasa.

Kawin anak dalam perspektif agama disampaikan oleh Mukti Ali. Mukti menjelaskan bahwa di antara ulama klasik terjadi perbedaan pendapat. Sebagian ulama membolehkan perkawinan anak dengan syarat adanya kemaslahatan, wujud al-maslahat. Jika tidak ada maslahat dan bahkan malah madharat, maka tidak boleh. Sebagian ulama yang lain, seperti Ibnu Hazm, melarang kawin anak bagi lelaki dan diperbolehkan bagi perempuan. Argumen ini merujuk pada Nabi saw. yang menikah saat usia dewasa. Sebagian ulama yang lain lagi, seperti Ibnu Sabramah, Utsman bin Muslim al-Batti dan Khatim al-A’sham, melarang kawin anak secara mutlak, baik bagi laki-laki maupun perempuan. Karena kawin anak sebagai khususiyah (hak istimewa/privilege) Nabi saw., dan tidak boleh bagi umatnya.

Ulama kontemporer yang melarang perkawinan anak yaitu hampir seluruh ulama Al-Azhar Kairo Mesir, seperti Syekh Prof. Dr. Ali Jum’ah (Mufti Negara Mesir), Syekh Prof. Dr. Ahmad Tayyib (Rektor Universitas Al-Azhar Kairo), Dr. Muhammad Faridl, dll. Para ulama Al-Azhar bersama para pakar genokologi, kesehatan, dan kedokteran melarang kawin anak dalam kitab “Dalil Qadlhaya al-Sihhah al-Injabiyah lil-Murahiqin wa al-Murahiqat fi Mandzhur al-Islam” (Argumen Kesehatan Reproduksi bagi Muda-mudi dalam Perspektif Islam), dengan argumentasi bahwa pelaku perkawinan harus sudah dewasa biologis (baligh), dewasa psikologis dan pikirannya (rusyd), sehingga tertanam rasa tanggung jawab. (QS. An-Nisa: 6).

Perkawinan anak seringkali menjauhkan dari tujuan perkawinan, yaitu sakinah (ketentraman), mawaddah (cinta), dan rahmah (kasih sayang). (QS. Ar-Rum: 21). Syekh Prof. Dr. Mahmud ‘Asyur, ulama Al-Azhar  dan ulama yang lain, berpendapat bahwa hadits Nabi saw. mengawini Aisyah pada usia 6/7 tahun bertentangan dengan fakta sejarah dan riwayat yang lain. Dan karenanya, sebetulnya Nabi saw. mengawini Aisyah pada usia 19 tahun.

Hukum perkawinan sendiri menurut seluruh ulama fikih baik klasik maupun kontemporer tidaklah tunggal, bahkan berubah-ubah sesuai dengan kondisi sang pelaku perkawinan: bisa sunnah, mubah, dan haram. Yang pasti jika perkawinan akan mengakibatkan madharat dan efek negatif bagi pelakunya, maka perkawinan adalah haram. Sedangkan perkawinan anak memiliki banyak dampak negatif atau madharat-nya, seperti tingginya angka kematian bayi dan angka kematian ibu, hilangnya kesempatan belajar sehingga terjadi pembodohan, melahirkan anak difabel atau prematur akibat belum sempurnanya tulang panggul dan fisik yang belum siap reproduksi, dan tingginya angka perceraian.

Perkawinan anak juga sering terjadi akibat dari kesalahpahaman mengenai Wali Mujbir dan kawin paksa. Perkawinan tidak boleh melalui paksaan, bahkan Nabi saw. menganjurkan meminta restu dari sang anak. Wali Mujbir bukan wali yang boleh memaksa seenaknya, tapi harus melalui syarat yang banyak dan tidak saklek. Di antara syaratnya adalah jika tidak ada penolakan dari pihak putri yang akan dikawinkan, maka perkawinan boleh diselenggarakan. Sementara jika ada penolakan atau ada indikasi penolakan, maka perkawinan tidak boleh dilanjutkan.

Dalam sesi diskusi, bapak Ade, salah satu pejabat BPPKB Kabupaten Cianjur, menyarankan agar apa yang disampaikan oleh Mukti Ali disampaikan juga ke ketua-ketua KUA, PA, dan jajaran yang paling bawah seperti P3N dan penghulu. Agar mereka mengerti landasan dan dalil agama atas pelarangan kawin anak. Karenanya harus ada tindak lanjut dengan mengadakan semacam pelatihan atau seminar yang audience-nya adalah mereka. Peserta yang lain, yaitu ibu Aenah, perwakilan Muslimah NU Cianjur, menyarankan agar diskusi serupa sebaiknya diadakan bagi kalangan kyai-kayi MUI, para kyai pesantren, dan ormas-ormas Islam yang ada di Cianjur. []