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Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 12:05 GMT

World: Africa

Masai girls fight to stay at school

Many Masai girls leave their families to stay at school

Masai girls in Kenya are battling to remain pupils instead of becoming young wives.

Correspondent Cathy Jenkins meets the girls who want schooling
The harsh reality of economics means that many Masai girls are taken out of school at an early age by their family.

Girls are traditionally considered old enough to marry at 12 or 14, and parents receive a dowry of cattle when they marry.

For the traditional Masai family keeping a girl at school makes no economic sense.

Now teachers at the Africa Inland Church School in the Kajiado region are trying to help those girls who want to continue their learning, rather than get married.

Most of the 649 pupils at the boarding school are Masai. Among them are some who have had to fight for their education.

[ image: Christine Shuaka loves school and wants to be a doctor]
Christine Shuaka loves school and wants to be a doctor
Christine Shuaka was 15 when her family said she had to get married, but she refused.

She told her parents she loved school, and wanted to be a doctor: "I said no. I said I should be educated first and then after I could marry - I would have enough worth to be married.

"My parents did not want me to continue my education."

But to rebel and stay at school the girls have to take drastic steps.

Often they have to run away from the family home and they consider the Africa Inland Church School a safe place to run away to.

High hopes, high fees

Priscilla Nangurai is the school's headmistress: "They know they have a right to education. The school has become a safe place, and that encourages them, and gives them courage to run away and come to school.

[ image: Priscilla Nangurai: The school is seen as a haven]
Priscilla Nangurai: The school is seen as a haven
"It's not very easy (for them). They arrive and sob."

Even with laws which give every child the right to schooling attitudes within the Masai are only slowly changing, and often government officials have to step in.

About half the Masai girls are taken out of education to get married.

Mosiany Mpoye married his wife when she was 10, but they want their teenage daughters to stay at school: "I'd like my daughters to be prominent in government. They will not lack anything because they will have an education."

But despite the high hopes, school fees are expensive, and the parents say they may have to take them out of school and marry them off.

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