Activists in Kuria shine spotlight on woman-to-woman Nyumba Mboke Marriages affecting single mothers

By Jared Nyangira, Migori County

In the Kuria community, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) persists, particularly affecting young girls from the age of 10 onwards. Unfortunately, if these girls become pregnant after undergoing the outlawed FGM, their chances of returning to school diminish significantly. Instead, parents often arrange marriages for them, seeking wealth in exchange for their daughters. One particularly unusual form of marriage within the community is known as “Nyumba mboke,” a woman-to-woman marriage.

In the local dialect, “Nyumba mboke” involves a situation where a young girl, considered impure after pregnancy, is married off to another woman. This woman pays a bride price, which surprisingly exceeds the norm for conventional marriages. The belief is that these girls are unfit for marriage to young men and must be married to another woman. This practice is prevalent as parents see it as an expedient way to secure wealth, and the prospects of these girls returning to school after childbirth are minimal.

Mrs. Maria Bhoke, a victim turned girl child rights activist, shares her personal experience of undergoing Nyumba Mboke at the age of 16. Raised by a single mother after her father’s early demise, Maria emphasizes the lack of protection.

Once married through Nyumba Mboke, the girls are left to fend for themselves, receiving only shelter. They are not allowed to engage with their wives’ husbands but are expected to have children with random men, who seldom take responsibility for the pregnancies.

Maria underscores the lack of joy in such marriages, stating that women often enter Nyumba Mboke unions due to the loss or separation from their husbands. The situation worsens as these young girls are forced into such marriages for their parents’ material gains.

In Nyumba Mboke, the married girls receive no assistance from the woman they are married to or her family; instead, they are turned into domestic workers, toiling without payment.

Another victim, Mrs. Pauline Mohabe, who underwent FGM at 12, got pregnant at 16, experienced divorce, and later found herself in a Nyumba Mboke marriage, describes the mistreatment she endured.

Maria Bhoke, now a girl child rights activist, notes a positive shift as the community becomes more enlightened. The prevalence of Nyumba Mboke marriages and the substantial bride prices have reduced, signaling progress.

The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Kenya, through its Migori County coordinator Mrs. Eva Ojwang, is actively working to enlighten Kuria community members against these regressive practices. Their goal is to ensure that all girls can resume their education even after giving birth.

Mrs. Agatha Wekesa, the Deputy Officer Commanding Station at Kehancha Police Station in Kuria West Sub County, highlights the authorities’ efforts to eradicate FGM in the region, promising arrests for human rights violations like FGM, which serves as the starting point for Nyumba Mboke.