A 27-year old man has been arrested and detained at Awendo Police Station, Migori County, for marrying a minor.
The man, only identified as Omondi, is alleged to have eloped with a 12-year-old girl five months ago. He was arrested with the minor at his home in Kwoyo Village on Friday after police trailed him.
The girl, a standard six pupil at Nyambija Primary School, was also held at the same police station as the man is waiting to be arraigned in court on December 27 to face charges of child marriage.
Awendo Deputy County Commissioner Alfet Jilo said the police were still investigating as the girl and her parents are denying that she is 12 years old.
"We are still investigating to ascertain the actual age of the girl because the birth certificate presented by the parents indicates she was born in the year 2005. However, the girl and her parents insist she was born in 1999. We shall soon find out the truth,” said Mr Jilo.
"Other procedural matters, including recording of statements, have been done. We are convinced that the girl is trying to shield the man but we will find out from the registrar of births before we arraign the two in court.”
The girl’s parents were said to have been reluctant in reporting the matter to the police for the five months she went 'missing'.
Some neighbours claimed that the parents had already negotiated with the suspect and allowed him to marry the girl.
"This is perhaps why the girl and her parents are insisting that she was born in 1999 so that the girl is declared 18 years old and the man is freed," said a resident of Awendo, who requested anonymity.
However, child rights activists and the girl’s teachers said she was underage.
Mrs Jilo urged the community to help authorities in curbing child marriages. She warned parents against abetting the crime.
“Many female pupils are dropping out of school because of early pregnancies and early marriages in this area. Those parents who shield the perpetrators are a big let-down to the community and we shall deal with them. We continue to call on the larger community to come out strongly protect the girls,” she said.
Cases of child sexual molestation and child marriage are on the rise in Migori County.
A week ago, a Kisii University student was arrested and arraigned in a Migori Court for defiling a 10-year-old in Oruba Village. The suspect was released on a cash bail of Sh200,000.
In October, two men – a teacher and a trader – were arrested after being found with minors in a lodging in Nyabohanse, Kuria West.
The areas that are most affected by these vices are Kuria and Nyatike.
According to child rights activists in the county, the vice is prevalent in Kuria due to female genital mutilation that is meant to make girls ready for sex and marriage.
"Many young girls are impregnated or married off in Kuria after they have been 'cut'. The practice is so rampant in the region. This has hugely curtailed progress of the girls in the region," said Ms Natalie Robi Tingo, an anti-FGM crusader in Kuria West.
In Nyatike, fishing and gold mining are blamed for the rise in the vice. Fishermen and gold miners have been accused of luring poor girls with money.
The activists have, however, blamed local authorities for failing to report the perpetrators.
"Chiefs and assistant chiefs shield most of these perpetrators hence, abetting the vice. Those who are arrested are released on bond by the courts. They come out to continue destroying our girls," said Ms Mary Akinyi, a child activist.