State initiates cross-border talks to end FGM

Anti-FGM Board CEO Bernadette Loloju addresses journalists in Taveta, Taita Taveta County, during the International Day of the Girl Child ceremony. She says the government is committed to ending FGM by end of this year. 

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika I Nation

The government has initiated a cross-border initiative to stop the movement of girls from Kenya to Tanzania for female genital mutilation (FGM).

A team that includes religious leaders, elders and other cultural influencers from both countries held talks on the issue during this year’s International Day of the Girl Child celebrations held in Taveta, Taita Taveta County.

The group affirmed their resolve to work with authorities to stop girls from crossing the border to undergo the banned practice.

The talks, led by Kenya Anti-FGM Board CEO Bernadette Loloju, ended with elders from both countries committing to eliminate FGM and protect girls and women from the harmful practice.

"We have involved the Maasai elders from both countries in the cross-border action plan on ending FGM. The elders from both sides will utilise their power to influence the community positively," Ms Loloju said.

While Kenya has made significant progress in fighting FGM, the efforts are undermined by parents who take their girls across borders to evade the law.

The national prevalence of FGM is 21 per cent, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS). About four million girls and women in Kenya aged between 15 and 49 have undergone the practice.

In 2019, former President Uhuru Kenyatta committed to eliminating FGM in Kenya by 2022. Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia also adopted a common declaration and action plan to address FGM, including cross-border FGM.

Ms Loloju said the government has made progress in fighting the practice.

She said the Anti-FGM Board met elders from Uganda and Kenya in West Pokot County last week and they recommitted to the declaration made last year by Pokot elders from both countries.

"Next week, we will be in Migori, where we will meet the Kuria community. We aim to ensure that girls are not subjected to the harmful practice," she said.

As Kenya awaits the release of new data from KDHS next month, Ms Loloju said she was optimistic the efforts of the government and other stakeholders will bear fruit.

"The data would have come out earlier but there were many challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic, that affected the exercise.

Despite that, we know that the practice has gone down," she said.

But perpetrators have devised new ways of perpetuating FGM, said Taveta Deputy County Commissioner Joseph Mericho.

Some parents take their children to Tanzania for FGM through the porous Taveta/Holili border point.

"We mostly get these cases from the health facilities where the children are taken after developing complications. Our investigations show that they are taken to Tanzania,” he said.

Five incidents were reported at Ndilidau Health Centre and three at the Rekeke dispensary in Taveta sub-county, he added.

He said Kenyan and Tanzanian administrators were meeting elders to persuade communities to end FGM.

"Most of these cases are perpetrated by the Maasai community. We are working with our colleagues in Rombo and Mwanga districts to end this practice," Mr Mericho said.

Papaking Singayo Laiza, a Tanzanian elder from Karamba/Ndea village in Mwanga district, said they will work with Kenyan authorities to report cases of girls sneaked into Tanzania to undergo the cut.

"We are also in the race to win this fight against FGM. We are working with the elders and our leaders and our commitment today is that we will work together," he said.

The 2014 KDHS statistics put Taita Taveta among 22 counties with high rates of FGM. The county’s prevalence rate was 22 per cent, higher than Kenya’s average.

The county assembly will be pressed to pass laws to protect girls, said Jennifer Dali, the governor’s youth and gender affairs adviser.

"We will work with other stakeholders to end this vice. We will ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted," she said.