Police in West Pokot have launched a manhunt for 10 men who assaulted a 12-year-old girl after she refused to be married off to an old man.
The incident happened in Sigor, Pokot Central sub-county, on Wednesday last week.
The girl’s father and her brother were among the men who thoroughly beat and injured her. They are on the run.
The victim, who was rescued by the Kapenguria Children Protection Unit, was supposed to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) before being married off.
The procedure and early forced marriages continue to be practiced in West Pokot, with many parents marrying off their young daughters for dowry. This has been a stumbling block to girls’ education, with many eloping with suitors to Uganda.
In the latest incident, the girl walked 20km from Lami Nyeusi village, where the incident happened, to the Marich Police Station, where she reported the matter.
She arrived at the police station on Thursday.
She revealed to the police that she had been living with her father after her mother died.
10 cows as bride price
Her suitors had approached her father requesting to marry her and gave him 10 cows as bride price.
On Wednesday, a group of men came and forcefully took her, while beating her to accept the marriage.
The girl agreed to be married off after the assault and was taken to her new home in Kambi Karaya at night under tight security so that she could not tell the route back home.
Police said the group then started partying after successfully marrying the girl to the suitor.
The girl narrated that she waited for the men to get drunk before she made her daring escape.
Police said the girl walked throughout the night, reaching the Marich Police Station at 9am. Officers took her to Sigor Sub-County Hospital, where she was treated.
"We are on the case and searching for the culprits who lived in the Orwa area in Sekerr location," said Mr Abdi Ibra, a police officer at the station who handled the case.
"We immediately rushed to the suitor’s home but, unfortunately, we found they had already run away. We are searching for the culprits," he said, noting that their homes were deserted.
Ms Domitilla Chesang, an anti-FGM activist and director of I-Rep Foundation that advocates for girls’ rights in the county, condemned the incident, lamenting that there has been a rise in the cases during the Covid-19 pandemic and many had not been documented.
She said the prevalence of FGM in the county stands at 74 per cent, higher than the national figure of 21 per cent.
“We had not witnessed the mass cutting of girls for a long time because of sensitisation and work done by different partners, but the Covid-19 period has shocked us,” she said.
Ms Chesang said girls in villages are suffering in silence and need urgent medical attention. She said many are hiding, fearing they could be arrested.
“We need our girls alive. We must rescue them, save them and give them medical attention and psychological support. They are traumatised and hiding in the bushes,” she said.
Cases pending in court
She said the government is doing all it can to bring the perpetrators to book, citing the many cases pending in court.
“There is misleading information in the villages that Covid-19 will never end and people should cut their girls and marry them off. After FGM, they marry them off because of economic challenges,” she said.
Ms Chesang said that they have sensitised the community on the dangers of FGM, with support from the local administration.
“Poverty and hardship have forced them to cut their girls and marry them off to get dowry and this is the sad reality,” she said.