The National Gender and Equality Commission was established in 2011 by an Act of Parliament. Its core mandate is to promote gender equality and freedom from Discrimination. In particular, it is the principal organ of State in ensuring compliance with all treaties and conventions ratified by Kenya relating to issues of Equality and Freedom from Discrimination and relating to special interest groups including children.
As we celebrate the World Population Day aptly themed ‘investing in our teenage girls’, it is important that we remember that this investment must put into consideration the existing risks facing the teenage girl. These risks include child labour, violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), discrimination in education, early marriages and lack of parental protection.
In a recent visit by NGEC to Migori County, these were the issues that the girls sang about through songs that were appropriately titled. ‘Whose children are we?’ since our parents do not spend time with us to know our needs; they asked; ‘Baba nakulaumu!’ (Father I blame you) for not taking me to school and being absent in my life. Why do you discriminate me against my brother?; Mama nakulaumu! (Mother I blame you) For making me fetch water and cook while my brother is doing his homework. You told me to join the women who took me for female Genital Mutilation. At the end of it they sang the glories of education; Elimu ni muhimu! (Education is important) We have a right to see beyond the village! They concluded by singing that; ‘When you educate a girl, you educate the whole family’
These are the realities facing the girl child.
While modern democracy, ostensibly, no longer tolerates the exclusion of women and the poor, the exclusion of children continues to be justified on precisely the grounds that they lack speech and reason. Yet, The Convention on the rights of the child provide in Article12 the need to respect the views of the child. It encourages parents and duty bearers to listen to opinions of children and involve them in decision making. Teenage girls are able to express their opinions on matters affecting their bodies and their world. If we hope to get returns from investing in our teenage girls, then we need to seek their opinions as we make decisions. As we seek solutions to escalating teenage pregnancy, early marriages, child abuse and other ills affecting the girls, let us involve them, it is the best option.