Kenya: Not Yet 'Uhuru' for Samburu Girls Despite Kenyatta's Kisima Declaration

About 79 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination candidates in Samburu did not sit for this year's exams owing to cultural prevalence that include female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the highest tally to ever miss out on primary level national exams in the county.

Since the infamous Kisima anti-FGM declaration officiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 5, more than six girls have been rescued while being subjected to the vice, and taken to the Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF).

The SGF runs a safe house for girls in Samburu protecting them from FGM, forced marriages and other harmful cultural practices. Even as the government intensifies the crackdown on FGM perpetrators, hundreds of county's vulnerable girls are still threatened as schools remain closed.

SGF Executive Director Josephine Kulea, estimates that more girls are suffering in silence for fear of stigmatisation.

"Last year, the community took advantage of the Covid-19 situation when children were at home and hundreds of girls were cut and married off. As schools closed for holidays, we have received reports that many are being married off despite the government's interventions," Dr Kulea told the Nation.Africa.

Cultural beliefs

The outlawed practice is strongly associated with cultural beliefs and norms among the community, with some residents holding that their culture must be respected. Nation.Africa has learnt that the practice is conducted secretly by elderly Samburu women around the neighbourhoods.

According to Dr Kulea, the harmful practices pose a great challenge to the enrolment of Samburu girls in schools.

"The trend of marrying off young girls and FGM is ailing our society. It is sad that most bright girls are dragged out of school to be married off forcefully," she said.

The anti-FGM crusader noted the enrolment rates of girls in Samburu remains low owing to cultural practices. She advised residents give underage girls a chance to access education and instead of marrying them off.

She is, however, optimistic that the interventions that include involvement of elders and religious leaders in the semi-nomadic region will see a gradual decline of the practices.

On March 5, Samburu elders signed declaration forms that heeded support to end FGM. The documents contained clauses that prohibited FGM and cemented other retrogressive cultural practices including early marriages, rape and teen pregnancies and emphasised equal treatment of boys and girls in terms of education.

Human rights abuses

Despite this, Samburu girls are still being subjected to human rights abuses including forced genital mutilation and early marriages.

"This retrogressive practice cannot end suddenly, but we believe progressive legislation and sensitisation campaigns will see the decline of female cut among Samburu girls with time," Dr Kulea noted, adding that there is positive progress.

Samburu County Department, however, said they have not received any reports of FGM cases in the county.

Child marriage and FGM are human rights violations, widely banned around the world, yet millions of girls continue to face them.

Globally, one in every five girls is married off before age 18, and it is estimated that some 200 million girls and women alive today, have experienced FGM, according to the United Nations.

The World Health Organisation says immediate complications from FGM can include severe pain, excessive bleeding, death and other infections, while long-term complications include urinary, vaginal and sexual problems. The UN agency further says this harmful practice is known to cause psychological problems including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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