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Kenya: Information on Kisii marriage customs and whether women are, at times, abducted and coerced into marriage

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 20 October 2003
Citation / Document Symbol KEN41968.E
Reference 4
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Kenya: Information on Kisii marriage customs and whether women are, at times, abducted and coerced into marriage, 20 October 2003, KEN41968.E, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
Comments Corrected version March 2007
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Kisii ethnic group, which is also known as the Gusii or Abagusii, is located mainly in Gusiiland in western Kenya and is composed of Bantu-speaking people (Hakansson 1998) who, as described by one source, conform to a strong sense of tradition ( n.d.).

A detailed description of traditional marriage practices among the Gusii can be found in the attached article by Tabitha N. Otieno of Jackson State University, entitled "How Traditional Cultural Practices Among the Gusii Protect or Fail to Protect the Gusii Girl Child."

Academics describe marriage by abduction as the practice whereby a man takes a woman by force, rapes her and then attempts to use the stigma of rape and, should she become pregnant, the shame of pregnancy to secure their marriage (Journal of African History 2003, 242 n2; Associate Professor 22 Sept. 2003a). An article in the Journal of African History by Brett Shadle of the University of Mississippi indicates that the practice occurs when a man cannot afford the required brideprice, a payment made by the husband to the wife's family in order to establish a marriage (2003 242 n2; see also Associate Professor 22 Sept. 2003a). A Jackson State University associate professor, born and raised in Gusiiland and author of numerous articles on the marriage practices of the Gusii (ibid. 18 Sept. 2003b) explained in a telephone interview that a man will also resort to marriage by abduction when he finds himself in competition with other suitors and he fears that he will lose the woman (ibid. 18 Sept. 2003a).

Shadle's research shows that, historically, marriage by abduction occurred among the Gusii in the 1890s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s (Journal of African History 2003, 245-248). During these periods, the brideprice rose to heights unattainable by most men as a result of drastic changes within the economy (ibid.). Despite the practice's historical precedence, however, an assistant professor of history at the University of Mississippi, who wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on the prevalence of runaway wives, eloped daughters and abducted women in Gusiiland, in the period between 1900 and 1965, said in correspondence with the Research Directorate that he believed the practice no longer existed among the Gusii and that if it still did, the courts would rule in favour of the women (ibid.).

However, the Gusii-born associate professor at Jackson State University said that although marriage by abduction is not as common as it has been, it does still exist (18 Sept. 2003a). The associate professor also said that a man, unable to pay the brideprice or in competition for a girl he wishes to marry, will follow her until she is alone – while she is collecting water or firewood, for example – and then will literally grab her and carry her home with him (Associate Professor 18 Sept. 2003a). Even if someone witnesses the abduction, no one will intervene since it is a practice that is neither condemned nor condoned (ibid.). The man then brings her to his home and rapes her (ibid.). No longer a virgin, she becomes unappealing to other men and more receptive to her abductor's efforts to either encourage or shame her into staying with him in order to spare her family and her clan any embarrassment (ibid.).

The Gusii professor also explained that female abductees can be women who reside in either rural or urban areas (ibid.). As evidence, she recited the case of a woman who, living in Nairobi, returned to her village to visit her family and had been abducted and held against her will for three weeks (ibid.). Although her boyfriend travelled from Nairobi to rescue her, her clan did not approve of his intervention (ibid.).

On a final note about marriage by abduction, the associate professor said that if a girl or woman decides to remain with her abductor, he will eventually need to pay the brideprice to sanction the marriage (ibid.).

Additional information on the above-mentioned topic could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Mississippi. 22 September 2003. Correspondence.

Associate Professor, School of Education, Jackson State University. 18 September 2003a. Telephone interview.
_____. 18 September 2003b. Correspondence.

Hakansson, N. Thomas. 1998. "Gusii." Encyclopedia of World Cultures on CD-ROM. New York: Macmillan Publishing. (UCLA Department of Anthropology, Professor Alan Page Fiske Class Websites) [Accessed 17 Sept. 2003]

The Journal of African History [Cambridge]. 2003. Vol. 44. Brett L. Shadle. "Bridewealth and Female Consent: Marriage Disputes in African Courts Gusiiland, Kenya." n.d. "Society and Culture in Mwa'mogusii." [Accessed 17 Oct. 2003]


Institute for the African Child (IAC), Ohio University. 2002. Tabitha N. Otieno. "How Traditional Cultural Practices Among the Gusii Protect or Fail to Protect the Gusii Girl Child." Working Papers in African Child Studies, No. 5. pp. 1-10.

Additional Sources Consulted

Amnesty International (AI). 8 March 2002. Kenya: Rape(The Invisible Crime. [Accessed 15 Oct. 2003]


Gender and Development Centre (GDC). 2002. Doreen A. Ondiwo. "The Girl Child Under Siege." A paper presented at the 2002 Women's Congress, Makerere University, Kampala. [Accessed 15 Oct. 2003]

Heinonen, Paula. 2002. "Early, Forced Marriage and Abduction (efma) and Their Links to Custom/Tradition, FGM, Poverty, and HIV/AIDS." A WOMANKIND Worldwide Background Document. [Accessed 15 Oct. 2003]

IRB Databases

Women's International Network News (WIN)

Internet sites, including:

Africa Confidential

Africa Online

BBC Africa

Daily Nation

East Africa Four Literacies Program

East African Standard

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

U.S. Department of State

Women's Human Rights Net

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

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Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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