Kiwis urged to join actress Thomasin McKenzie, former All Black Conrad Smith in challenge to curb number of Kenyan girls forced into child marriage

"By challenging ourselves, we can challenge these shocking statistics."
"By challenging ourselves, we can challenge these shocking statistics." Photo credit: Getty Images.

Kiwis are being urged to join other well-known New Zealanders by participating in a challenge to help get the high number of girls in Kenya who are forced into child marriage and experience female genital cutting into education.

About 85 percent of girls in East Pokot face this, so the inaugural 1 Human Race challenge asks people to move 85 kilometres to help raise money to get them into education to improve their lives and the lives of generations to come.

So They Can is the charity behind 1 Human Race. Founder Cassandra Treadwell says the idea to start the organisation came after she heard the stories of girls in Pokot.

"So basically, 85 percent of these girls suffer female genital cutting and get sold before they're 10 years old to a significantly older man," she tells Newshub.

From then on, they become "breeding machines".

She says a number of girls told their stories of how they had gone through genital cutting and they were sold off. They would then get pregnant but they would run away to one of So They Can rescue schools.

"So education is the answer for them, and that's the core focus of So They Can - empowering through education," Treadwell says.

"This is our physical virtual challenge for people to move 85km. People choose whether they run, walk, swim, bike, kayak over this month of March for the 85 percent of these girls in the hope that we'll raise $85,000."

So far, nearly $70,000 has been raised.

About 12 million girls are married every year, which is 23 girls every minute.

Currently, 130 million girls globally are out of school and one million of those live in sub-Saharan Africa. It is forecast that 10 million more girls will never return to school as a result of poverty caused by COVID-19 that results in them being tied to domestic duties or sold as a child bride. 

So They Can's 'Keeping Girls in School' project is run in all 37 of their schools across Kenya and Tanzania. It educates female students on their human rights, as supported by the United Nations, which includes the right not to be sold into a marriage and the right not to undergo female genital cutting.

Kiwi actress Thomasin McKenzie, known for her roles in Jojo Rabbit and Leave No Trace, is one of the 170 people taking part in the 1 Human Race challenge, and she's encouraging others to take part.

"By challenging ourselves, we can challenge these shocking statistics and make sure that even more girls have access to the education and human rights that they so desperately deserve," she says.

McKenzie, who is walking 85km, says if the physical challenge isn't realistic for you, you can sponsor a friend instead.

Joining McKenzie is another well-known Kiwi, former All Black Conrad Smith, who chose to amplify his challenge by cycling 850km.

Treadwell says the challenge was created in a way that's designed to be reciprocal and a win-win.

"We realise that we get so much from these communities on the ground," she says. "People are finding that it's making them go out walking with their partners and it's contributing to their own wellbeing."

Although the challenge has begun, people can still join by visiting the So They Can website, or they can also sponsor participants.

Also, for $55 a month, children can be sponsored, which Treadwell says will "save these girls forever" and keep them in school.