“One night he came home and had the purpose to kill me, the children, and himself,” said Dianah Kamande, a victim of forced marriage in Kenya.
survived with 21 cuts on her head and face. Her children were unharmed.
When they were rescued, her husband was left in the house.
“That’s when he murdered himself,” she said. He stabbed himself in the stomach.”
She became a young widow and a mother of two children.
According to the Exodus Road, a non-profit organization that works on
fighting modern-day slavery, as of 2022, 650 million girls and women
are being forced to marry. Within this dynamic, there is a continuum of
coercion ranging from physical violence to psychosocial pressure. It’s a
marriage where at least one is married without consent, against their
will or is not able to exit the marriage.
Kamande participated in a UN Human Rights’ expert workshop on the
dire consequences of forced marriage on women and girls and on the tools
to end this harmful practice. The workshop brought together the
international community, experts, forced marriage survivors and
activists to Geneva, Switzerland.
According to UN Human Rights, forced marriage is a human rights
violation and a harmful practice that disproportionately affects women
and girls globally. The goal of the workshop was to increase
understanding about the complexity of forced marriage including the
diverse drivers and the need for context specific policy and legal
“Ending forced marriage requires strengthened and concerted efforts
in all contexts, following a collaborative approach, as we can only make
a difference together,” said Hannah Wu, UN Human Rights Section Chief
of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality. “We must address this issue
in partnership involving all stakeholders at community, national,
regional, and global levels, in both peace and conflict situations.
Above all, we need to work with girls and women.”
Support for women & girls
After her traumatic experience, Kamande said she founded the
organization, Come Together Widows & Orphans Organization (CTWOO).
She took on this journey to heal herself and to support other survivors
of forced marriage and domestic violence. She became a champion for the
rights of widows, survivors of domestic violence, and the children who
were left behind. Kamande also manages a program in New York, Global
Fund for Widows, an organization that advocates for girls who have
experienced both forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
“I needed to create a platform for women to articulate their issues. We
say no to all forms of gender violence here and I believe education is an
equalizer.” Dianah Kamande,
Founder, Come Together Widows & Orphans Organization
“As a young mother, going back to school is where I got everything I
needed at that time,” she said. “I have seen so many women rise from
nothing to something. I want these children to become better and greater
Kamande explained that forced marriage opens the door for gender-based,
domestic, and physical violence where men who marry these girls are often older
and take advantage of them and may even sexually abuse them. Currently, there
are 63 children in the program, the majority of whom are girls. They have been
able to rescue some boys who have been through family violence as well.
Caroline Ndiangui, another workshop participant, is also a survivor of
forced marriage. She visits people in villages to explain to these communities
the consequences of forced marriage. Ndiangui also meets with girls, and she
informs them that they do not have to get married when they are young. Poverty
levels and peer pressure from parents and religion are among the main causes of
forced marriage, she said. Through this experience, she started her own
initiative, Teen Mothers Arise Initiative.
“I work with teenagers who have given birth through early or unwanted
pregnancies, who have been in forced marriages,” she said. “I’m inspired
because I’ve seen the results. I’ve seen girls who’ve become big people in
She emphasized her primary purpose in this field is to be an advocate for
young girls. She explained that once a young girl is into forced marriage, they
lose their right to education and their right to childhood.
“Being given the role of being a wife, a mother for those who end up
having children, and even the role of being child widows becomes too heavy a
burden for them to bear,” she said.
Ndiangui got married and pregnant at the age of 16.
“Life wasn’t easy for me,” she said. “I was going through verbal,
physical, and emotional abuse. Today, I look at myself and my story. It was not
a good start in life. I help girls in situations of forced marriage, I help
them know their rights, and realize that they can always go back to school and
create a better future for themselves.”
Health care workers, police officers, and community leaders in Kenya are
working with Ndiangui and her team. They’re helping to try and dissolve those
marriages and send girls to school.
“I wish I would have known what my rights were,” she said.
“Anywhere that it [forced marriage] is happening in the world, it should
stop. Girls need to be given a chance to be a child, and a chance to be a girl.
Let’s allow girls to grow into women before we force them to become a wife or a
– Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights –