Marriages are often arranged between young girls and much older men. Maasai families make these arrangements for their daughters, not because they don’t love their daughters and want to protect them; quite the opposite. Because of the way their society is structured, the only way to offer economic security to their daughters is through marriage. And the wealthier the bridegroom, the more secure their daughter. But due to the transactional nature of Maasai marriage, a bridegroom must be able to pay for his bride with heads of livestock, it takes time for men to accumulate enough wealth to afford to enter marriage. So, you have much older men paying for much younger girls.
But it’s the girls and women who end up paying the price. They have no voice, no agency in the path of their lives. Many of them don’t have the opportunity to experience a childhood. They are robbed of their adolescence and pushed into sexual relationships with much older husbands. The girls are forced to bear children and become mothers when they themselves are still children. And for the few who dare advocate for themselves, despite these extraordinary constraints, there is no option for divorce.
Once married, it is nearly impossible for a wife to leave her husband. The reason for this is threefold: One, the bride’s family would have to be willing and able to return the bride price given to them by their daughter’s husband; two, marriage is not viewed as an arrangement between two people, but two families, so dissolving it is not up to the individuals; and three, children belong to a patrilineal structure. This means they are the father’s property and cannot be taken by the mother; so if she leaves him, she leaves them. In many ways, once married a girl’s fate is sealed.