<\body> Stories in America: Masai Girls Escape Forced Marriages

Friday, April 14, 2006

Masai Girls Escape Forced Marriages

This girl was forced to marry an old man who already has three wives. As the youngest wife, she is responsible for most of the chores, including fetching water and carrying firewood. (Photo by Lazaro Mollel)

This is an amazing story. The drought in East Africa is causing Masai families to trade their daughters for cattle, but an organization that offers shelter and education is giving these girls the strength to run away for a better life:
The Masai of East Africa count their wealth in two ways -- the number of cattle in their herds and the number of daughters in their families.

So when Naipa Melita's father lost four of his five cows to the drought that has pushed more than 11 million people to the brink of famine in the Horn of Africa, he turned to his most valuable remaining asset. "My father had someone that he wanted to give me to -- a man of 60 years," Naipa says quietly in her native Masai tongue. "I was going to be given to a wealthy man who had enough cows to get him through this bad time."

In return for his ten-year-old daughter, Naipa's father was promised a dowry of five cows to replenish his herd. But Naipa had learnt from other girls in her village that there was an alternative.

In January she boarded a goods train as it passed her village and travelled the 25 miles or so to a girls' refuge in Kajiado, a small town in southern Kenya.

"I told my parents that I was going to do some washing in the river and then just came here," she says in the simple office of the Africa Inland Church's Girls' Rescue Centre.

"At first I missed home, but now I am happy to be here."
Priscilla Naisult Nangurai, the woman who runs the shelter, says the number of girls seeking help is on the rise and they're arriving at much younger ages than usual -- some as young as 12 and 13. Without this organization, these girls would live the rest of their lives as slaves to older men -- many as old as 60:
But Naipa is one of the lucky ones. She arrived at the shelter in January and has been attending school ever since.

"One day I would like to be a teacher," she says. "I want to teach other girls like me."


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