Kenya has registered remarkable achievements in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation. But as the world marks the International Day of the Girl Child, evidence shows that the government and other stakeholders need to step up efforts to fully eradicate the vice
In August, media reports indicated that over 50 girls from Nginyang girls’ boarding school in western Kenya had camped at school, reluctant to go back to their homes for fear of being subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Equality Now set up a quick fact finding mission to ascertain these reports and find out the immediate needs as well as engage authorities on the issue and incite them into action. Women Rights Institute for Peace (WRIP) based in Eldoret has been vocal on the issues that affect women in this region and visited the area. Nginyang is about 200 kilometres from Kabarnet town, the headquarters of Baringo County. The institution was established by the AIC church and the government to cater for girls’ education in a region where very few girls had previously been enrolled at school. The three-block building caters for about 100 school girls.
Girls in this area and its surrounding counties are subjected to FGM as early as from seven years of age. It is estimated that close to 27,000 girls do not go to school. More than 50 percent of girls aged between 10 to 21 years here have been circumcised with children and education officers indicating that more than 80 percent of girls either do not join school or drop out prematurely after undergoing FGM. FGM prepares them for wifehood which means that immediately after the operation, the girls are considered ready for marriage.
Traditionally held in December, FGM ceremonies have become less colourful and have either gone underground or shifted to April and August school holidays, in a bid by the parents and practitioners to evade law enforcers and anti-FGM campaigners. Organizations operating in the Pokot region indicated that almost every adult willing to engage on the issue is not only aware that FGM is going on, but might also be able to cite an incident of girls who have died following complications arising after the operation. Areas facing the same predicament in Baringo County are Kositai, Churo, Paka Hills, Natang and Kolowa.
The area District Commissioner said they were trying to ensure that chiefs were not involved in propagating the practice.
“I have now decided that any chief who condones the practice in his or her area of jurisdiction will be arrested and charged with the offence of abetting a crime,” Daniel Kirui said.
Yet well-documented cases of FGM and early marriage in the region appear to constantly evade prosecution, and despite periodic declarations of abandoning the practice and frequent media reports of FGM, little progress can be reported. Kenya adopted the prohibition of FGM law as far back as 2001, and now country boasts the steepest decline on the practice according to a UNICEF report released this year. The decline is attributed to the use of information, prosecution, protection systems but mainly to an education favourable environment where even the most destitute and rights-deprived girls have become aware that they stand a chance if they receive an education. But the law has not fully stepped up for them, even where teachers and well-wishers are trying to step in.
“When governments do not fulfill their obligations by failing to prosecute clear violations against women and girls, women lose out on all levels – in health, by developing complications attributed to practices such as FGM and in development such as the case of Pokot and Baringo counties where girls are taken out of school prematurely; most important however is that it enforces a culture of impunity where rights of the individual are not taken seriously. Everyone and not just women loses. This is why all stakeholders in their individual capacities should get involved in any way they can,” states Equality Now’s Director Faiza Jama Mohamed who has been at the forefront of the campaign to end FGM.
WRIP found the institutions that had earlier been reported to be hosting hundreds of children empty. The girls are reported to have left after media reports, prompting their parents to collect some. Others sought refuge at Cana Girls Rescue Centre. One of the very few of its kind in the area, it has a limited capacity to handle the ever increasingly number of girls opting not to go home to what is sometimes described as ‘the vacation of horror’. Space limitations have forced the administration to send away some of the girls during the holidays in order to create room for those running away for the first time. Such arrangement may expose the girls to FGM back at home. There are also reports that sometimes groups of young men storm the institution demanding to take away the girls. The institution is in dire need of a trained matron to help the girls, as well as social workers and part-time teachers. Some of the girls have been forced to run away from these circumstances of forced marriage and female genital mutilation, leaving them stressed and traumatized. Cana already boasts three girls who are now admitted to university.
While ignorance of the negative implications will be casually cited as the reason behind the high prevalence of child marriage and FGM, some chiefs in the area are reported to accept bribes to assist parents evade arrest. Stakeholders’ cooperation in a bid to bring the practice to an end has been evasive– mainly due to security concerns, lack of sustained funding as well as general lack of information on the region.
The Deputy Governor Mathew Tuitoek of Baringo County expresses willingness to work with civil society organizations that are working to end FGM.
“We as Baringo County have already incorporated FGM into the county’s integrated development plan. We only need partnership to mobilize the community and stakeholders into action,” says Mr. Tuitoek.
One of the short-term systems that the county plans to adopt is to set aside funds to build more boarding schools where girls will stay during their holidays while liaising with humanitarian groups and non-governmental organizations to assist in daily subsistence at the safe houses. County authorities have also pledged to participate in community sensitization and awareness campaigns against FGM.
While all these efforts are commendable and needed urgently, a clear policy involving all stakeholders to deliberate on the issues raised above needs to be established by the government – addressing the education of girls, FGM and early marriage in the region. Training of personnel to keep the momentum on the policy running will be necessary – but to really stress that the government means business in addressing these issues, more prosecutions of perpetrators and collaborators of both child marriage and female genital mutilation are a must. This is the only way that Kenya’s present government can demonstrate that they will no longer fail the girl child in regards to FGM and early marriage.
* Ruth Njeng’ere is a communications officer at Equality Now.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!