Marriage on sale in Nairobi

By Gatonye Gathura

Money has changed marriage in ways never seen before in Nairobi, say health and population experts.

Today many young men in Nairobi are delaying marriage until they have an assured source of income to care for a wife and children.

On the other hand women are scouring for an income as security to marry who and when they want or not marry at all.

Despite a lot of talk about both gender bringing something to the table, the new study shows less harmony on the take away from the same table.

“No woman in our study spoke about the importance of financially assisting or “feeding” husbands in the way that men spoke about supporting wives,” says the study by the African Population Health Research Centre (APHRC) and others.

Unlike traditionally when men would recourse to parents and family on marriage, for the city man this is now a much more personal and lonely decision largely pegged on income.

“Having a wife is a burden because today you can’t expect anyone else to feed you and your family,” said a respondent, 22-year-old Mark, unmarried but with a child from an earlier relationship.

The study carried out in Nairobi by APHRC, University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, University of Michigan, US, and Population Council-Kenya  appeared two weeks ago (August 6th 2018) in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

The researchers studied how young people in Nairobi are making sense of marriage amidst an unprecedented unemployment crisis in the country.

One coping mechanism, the report says is delaying marriage for both sexes in favour for non marital unions such as ‘come we stay’ arrangements.

“Shifts in marriage are especially striking in Nairobi, where the average age of marriage is the highest in the country—22.1 for women and 26.1 for men—and where the majority of young adults in unions are cohabiting rather than married,” says the study.

As high as 87 per cent of men and 72 per cent of women aged 25 to 34 who are in unions are in informal arrangements, indicates the study.

Of these unions only about 1.4 per cent are being formalized annually suggesting that ‘come we stay’ is not a guarantee to marriage.

This, population experts say is translating to much casual sex, many women marrying while already pregnant, many single mothers and high HIV infections among the youth.

This problem was investigated in February in a 30-African countries’ study, including Kenya by Emily Smith-Greenaway of University of Southern California and Shelley Clark of McGill University both of US.

The study published in the same journal as the current inquiry found 10 out of 100 women in Kenya to enter marriage while already pregnant.

Almost a quarter (22 per cent) of young women in Kenya, the study says are getting their first child out of wedlock.

This compared to only about five per cent in Ethiopia, about 14 per cent in Uganda and Tanzania and 10 per cent in Rwanda.

But the situation is much worse in eSwatini (Swaziland) where 53 per cent of young women give first birth out of wedlock, 50 per cent in Namibia, 43 per cent in Gabon and 31 per cent in Liberia.

Of the 30 study countries, Kenya was among the top 10 with highest number of women giving first birth out of wedlock.

At only three per cent, Guinea had the lowest number of women entering a marriage while already with first pregnancy.

Many of the women in Africa who get children out of wedlock, the study says are increasingly finding it difficult to marry apart from in Chad and Senegal.

“Chad and Senegal are the only two African countries where mothers generally marry faster than their childless peers,” says the study.

In Kenya, the study shows the duration unwed mothers are taking before they can marry has increased from about three years in the 90s to about four years today.

Unwed mothers in Uganda are likely to marry slightly earlier then Kenyans, while Tanzanians are likely to stay out of wedlock longer but not as long as the up to 14 years in Namibia.

The authors suggest such delay may be due to the women opting to continue with education and careers or lack of marriage opportunities.

 “Many men also are not willing to care of children not from their own loins while unwed mothers may be seen to have lost some market value compared to their childless peers,” says the study.

But the Nairobi study says city women while interested in marriage just like men, for them marriage is no longer a matter of life and death.

The study tells of a generation of “women for whom marriage is not a strict necessity to gain access to wages, but rather a possible and desirable option if a proper husband can be found.”

“With their increasing participation in paid employment, Nairobi women are now able to be household breadwinners and to look after their children without marriage.”

For men, the study concludes, the main concern about marriage is being unable to support a family. For women, “early marriage” is described as a social ill, associated with dropping out of school and possible life-long suffering to be avoided.

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