15 December 2018

Kenya: FGM Season Underway as Residents Devise New Methods of Beating Ban

Photo: Daily News
Razors used in female genital mutilation (file photo).
analysis

Practitioners of female genital mutilation have devised new ways of overcoming a government crackdown on the cultural rite of passage.

Unscrupulous medics have opened clinics that offer the service at a fee or even consult for parents and guardians who take their children through this rite.

And the trade is thriving, with hundreds of girls in West Pokot seeking services of private clinics to get circumcised secretly.

Some of the girls cross over from Bukwo district in Uganda to Pokot North and get admitted into private clinics as patients where they secretly undergo the cut.

According to anti-FGM crusaders, the rite is also performed under the guise of merry-go-around ceremonies to evade arrest by security officers.

PRIVATE CLINICS

Sources told Saturday Nation that the practice was rife. However, owners of private clinics dismissed claims that they were involved in the secret circumcision of girls.

"We are open to scrutiny and the law will take its course on those found to be contravening the law on banned female circumcision," said one of the clinicians who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Anti-FGM crusaders claim that girls from as far as Uganda cross into the country to undergo the prohibited cultural rite.

"Thousands of girls are still at risk of being subjected to retrogressive cultural practices including early marriages and female genital mutilation," said Domitilah Chesang of Beyond, an anti-FGM non governmental organisation.

The Pokots are found in Kenya and Uganda and practice female circumcision, outlawed in both countries. World Vision project officer for the Girl Child Promotion Project, Teresa Cheptoo, said female genital mutilation and early pregnancies cases are high in the county.

BLEED EXCESSIVELY

"During the holidays, many girls between class six and form three are forced to undergo the rite," said Ms Cheptoo.

Meanwhile, three women are recuperating at the Iten County Referral hospital after they bled excessively while undergoing the cut.

The women, aged 28, 30 and 32, are from Kaplamai in Keiyo North with one of them being a mother of a two months baby and will be charged with undergoing the outlawed practice once they are discharged from hospital.

Area OCPD Mwenda Meme, who confirmed the incident, noted that police have arrested a 70-year-old woman suspected to have performed the act.

In Migori County, FGM is rife among the Kuria community. Many of the residents have vowed to continue with the rite of passage, citing culture and tradition as an excuse.

COUPLE ARRESTED

Despite an official ban and threats by the authorities to arrest anyone found participating in the rite, anti-FGM campaigners say at least 100 girls may already have been circumcised in Kuria West since last week's commencement of the circumcision season.

Last week, a couple was arrested after subjecting their two daughters to the rite.

Mabera sub county deputy commissioner Timothy Tirop said Mr Murga Nyahiri Togora and Ms Rioba Makuri Togora, together with their two daughters, were arrested at Masusura village in Mabera sub county. They were arraigned in court and pleaded guilty.

The police said they are pursuing the circumciser who was reported to have escaped to neighbouring Tanzania.

"We shall not relent in the war against the practice. Let those who are planning to carry out the practice be warned," Mr Tirop said.

GIRLS PARADED

However, the arrests and warnings from the officials seem not to have deterred the residents. In what has baffled anti-FGM campaigners in the region, locals are now carrying out the practice in broad day light with the 'cut' girls being paraded on the roads, clad in less and accompanied by jubilant residents who sing and dance.

"The practice is now done in the open. Every day, since it started last week, I have met several girls being paraded on the roads in broad daylight after being cut. The police and government officials are nowhere to be seen," said Ms Maroa Robi, an activist.

She added; "It is unfortunate that the government talks tough but does not follow up with firm actions."

Last week, several girls from Nyabohanse, Kubweye, Nyamosense, Masarura, Ikerege and Motemorabu in Kuria West and Mabera sub counties were circumcised in separate events that were publicly celebrated in the villages.

CARRYING MACHETES

In one of the events witnessed by Saturday Nation, the circumcised girls are escorted by young men armed with machetes as women sing and ululate.

The girls are wrapped in colourful lessos, which cover their bodies right from their heads.

They are also adorned in flowers and beads put round their necks. Their faces are painted with white chalk, which symbolises purity as they graduate into adulthood, according to locals.

During the processions, the young men, locally known as abamura, are also on the lookout to stop anyone from taking photos of the girls or recording the event. They viciously manhandle anyone who attempts to do so. The procession goes round the village, escorting each of the girls to their homes.

At the homes, they are welcomed by family members and relatives who shower the girls with all manner of gifts.

300 RESCUED

According to one of the residents who sought anonymity, most of the locals have vowed that they would not abandon the practice.

"Many of our people are not ready to stop this practice and they say they want to show the authorities that they will do it despite efforts to stop it. That is why they resort to parading the girls on the road. The authorities just look and do nothing. Some of the processions are done right outside police stations," she said.

"The ceremonies started secretly, with some girls being taken to the circumciser early in the morning but when they realised no serious action was being taken to stop them, it has become a public affair," she added.

Scores of girls have flocked rescue centres as they run away from being compelled to undergo the cut.

Mr Rioba, who heads a rescue centre run by ADRA Kenya, an NGO, said the centre has over 300 of the girls rescued from the cut. "We have over 300 girls and they keep coming. Our centre is becoming overwhelmed," said Mr Rioba.

OVERWHELMED

Cana Girls Rescue Home at Nginyang' in Baringo, which has been the refuge for girls fleeing the outdated cultural practice, is also overwhelmed with the high number of runaway girls.

In a bid to combat the vice, government officials now say that girls will be examined to check for signs of the cut and pregnancy when schools reopen in January.

Narok County commissioner George Natembeya announced plans to subject schoolgirls to pregnancy tests on the first day of the school term next year in a bid to combat teenage pregnancies.

Speaking in Nairegie Enkare in Narok East on Tuesday, the administrator said the girls would also undergo test to check whether they had been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation during the December holidays.

He said parents of the teenagers who will have been found to have subjected their daughter to FGM will be arrested and arraigned in court.

TEENAGE PREGNANCIES

He also issued a stern warning to chiefs and their assistants who abet the vices in their areas of jurisdiction, saying those found culpable will face the sack.

"I understand that some chiefs are bribed with some cows to turn a blind eye to FGM, teenage pregnancies and early marriages. Be on the lookout because we are coming for you. We shall fire you, arrest you and prosecute you," warned Mr Natembeya.

The tough-talking administrator said girls who will have been found to have undergone the cut will be forced to record statements with the police, while those pregnant will be required to reveal the men responsible.

Reporting by Barnabas Bii, Oscar Kakai, Florah Koech, Vivere Nandiemo and George Sayagie

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