Parents disown girls for evading ‘the cut’

Cooperative Development assistant minister Linah Kilimo (centre) joins Pokot women in a dance during the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation marked at Makutano Stadium in West Pokot District on February 6, 2011. Photo/JARED NYATAYA

The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation was marked on Sunday, but in Mt Elgon District there was little to celebrate.

Many girls have been forced to cut short their studies and married off at a tender age while some of them are still in hiding, disowned by their parents after running away to avoid undergoing the rite.

In December, more than 100 girls targeted to face the knife in region were rescued by Maendeleo ya Wanawake officials.

The girls from Kamuneru Location - some as young as nine - had been threatened with death if they tried to escape.

They underwent guidance and counselling after their escape but they are yet to fully recover from the harrowing experience.

“They said I should never go back home again because I escaped the cut,” said nine-year-old Nelly Cherono amid sobs.

Twelve-year-old Faith Chepkemoi, who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education last year, said she was supposed to get married soon after she healed.

Not many girls in the area are left to pursue education beyond Standard Eight. And Lily Chebet, 10, was taken to her grandmother’s house to be circumcised.

“They said that if I wasn’t circumcised, I would never get married and that no man would ever want me,” she said.

Chebet was told that education was not meant for women because they were supposed to get married and take care of their husbands.

“I want to finish my education and become a lawyer so that I can protect young girls from my home area,” she said.

Mt Elgon District Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson Jennifer Mbatian said some girls were traumatised as they had undergone preparations for the rite.

Mrs Mbatian appealed to the Sabaot community to abandon the practice. “Female genital mutilation is a monster destroying the destiny of the girl child,” she said.

Authorities in the district say FGM is still practised despite government efforts to end it. Uncircumcised women are generally looked down upon and discriminated against.

Therefore, many young girls agree to undergo the rite of passage so that they can be accepted by the community.

According to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, the prevalence of FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia by traditional circumcisers, lies at 27.1 per cent.

Some 48.8 per cent of circumcised women falling between the ages of 45 to 49 and 14.6 per cent being girls aged between 15 to 19.

Kenya has recorded milestones in fighting the traditional rite, including passing and implementing legal instruments such as the National Policy for the Abandonment of FGM/C, the Children’s Act of 2001 and the Sexual Offences Act of 2006.

The Prohibition of FGM Bill 2010 was approved by Speaker Kenneth Marende for publication by the Government Printer and will soon be tabled in Parliament for debate.

Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi, who will table the Bill, says: “If this Bill is approved by Parliament and made into law, then it could be the biggest milestone yet.”

Marakwet East MP Linah Kilimo, who chairs the women parliamentarians’ association that has been involved in the fight against FGM, is optimistic that the Bill will be passed.

However, the women of Mt Elgon say a lot still has to be done in efforts to end the barbaric practice that has destroyed the lives of many young girls.