Fathers against the cut: 'We chose education over FGM, now we're reaping the sweet fruits'

Joseph Lonana Korle (in yellow), also refused to cut his two daughters, in Amboseli area, Kajiado County, on June 6, 2024. He is educating  older and young Maasai men on ending FGM and educating their daughters.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Marriage Act (2014), however, doesn't recognise a marriage between an adult and a child. 
  • A person who sleeps with a child aged 12–15 commits an offence in the form of defilement prohibited in Sexual Offences Act (2006).
  • Such a criminal once convicted is jailed for a term of not less than 20 years.

One Friday afternoon in 2004, Saruni Lenkosho, then 28 years and in Class Eight, was walking home with her last-born sister, both barefoot.

His sister was aged 13, and in Class Seven. She informed him of her upcoming marriage.

“My mother had informed her of our dad’s decision to marry her off. And there is nothing we would do. His word was final,” recollects Saruni in an empty voice at his home in Noomayianat village of Kajiado South.

Saruni Lenkosho, who refused to subject his daughters to FGM, on June 6, 2024 at his home in Noomayianat village, Kajiado South.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria I Nation Media Group

His sister was his parents’ only daughter out of nine children. Saruni is the third.

To prepare her for marriage, the mother took her for female genital mutilation, and a few days later, the husband, an 18-year-old young man, came for his wife. Under the Constitution, any person who has attained 18 years is considered an adult. 

The Marriage Act (2014), however, doesn't recognise a marriage between an adult and a child. A person who sleeps with a child aged 12–15 commits an offence in the form of defilement prohibited in Sexual Offences Act (2006). Such a criminal once convicted is jailed for a term of not less than 20 years.

Saruni did not report his brother-in-law as he feared defying his father at the time, an action that would turn him into a homeless person and an outcast.

“But I was really hurt. I loved my sister so much. I wanted her to finish her studies and build a career for herself. I felt so bad. Why discontinue her education for the sake of marriage? Would that marriage not wait?” asks Saruni.

He dropped out of Form Three for lack of school fees. He says she now has many children and looks much older than her age. Something good, though, came out of his hurt. He vowed never to subject his daughters to such. For the community, he made a solemn promise to himself to convince his people to drop the practice.

FGM is not just one single event of violence outlawed under the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2011). It exposes women and girls to a string of other violations. 

For girls, they are denied the right to education, freedom of expression, and the environment to be just children, given in the 2022 law on children

Among the Maasai, fathers speak to their daughters through their mothers, Saruni says.

If the mother protests his decision or helps the daughter to escape, then both will be victims of child abuse and domestic violence, crimes prohibited by existing laws.

“The husband will be enraged. He will beat you up, mercilessly,” says Esther Sankau married at the age of 10.

“When my mother told me I was going to be married, I didn’t protest because I knew my dad would beat her up and tie me to a tree.”

So Saruni’s change and advocacy doesn’t only drive an end to FGM but eliminates risks to infringement of rights.

From the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) data, married women are more likely to experience physical violence from their current husbands or intimate partners, at 54 per cent, two times the global average of 27 per cent.

Similarly, 34 per cent of the ever-partnered women are likely to suffer the same fate from a former husband or intimate partner.

On the other side, by 2022, KDHS established that the prevalence of FGM had declined by six per cent, perhaps a proof that although former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration failed to achieve his target of zero FGM by end of 2022, there was a progress towards eliminating it.

Mr Kenyatta had in 2019 declared to end it in three years. The analysis by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that numbers had shrunk from 21 per cent in 2014 to 15 per cent in 2022.

It showed that between 1998 and 2003, the cases dropped by six per cent just as it was in 2008/9–14 and 2014–22. But the rate at which they decreased was slowest between 2003–8/9 which recorded a five per cent slump.

When broken down to age groups, the data showed that the women aged 40–44 are the most cut at 24 per cent. The 45–49-year-olds are the second with a 23 per cent prevalence, dropping down to 19 per cent for those in the 35–39 age bracket.

The prevalence is least (nine per cent) among 15–19-year-olds, followed by the 20–24-year-olds at 10 per cent.

Similarly, 13 per cent of the 25–29-year-olds have been subjected to the cut and 16 per cent of those aged 30–34.

Anti-FGM campaigners partly attribute this drop to fathers taking a stand against the harmful practice.

“I can confidently say that fathers have played a huge role in ensuring that there are no new cases of FGM in the 22 FGM hotpot counties,” says Dorcas Parit, founder and executive director of Hope Beyond, an organisation that collaborates with the police to rescue girls at risk of FGM, puts them in a shelter and sends them to school.

Now, at the age of 48, Saruni is a proud father of four uncut girls, a proof that indeed he has contributed to the “zero new cases”. And all of them are in school.

“I want them to finish school and later in life they will decide for themselves when they want to get married,” he chuckles.

Well, that decision comes with forgoing community benefits.

He says, in weddings, his age set fellows pass him in distributing a particular chunk of meat which symbolises their social category, thus outstripping him of his sense of belonging.

Neither is he allowed to contribute in community meetings, having been labelled a “father of children”.

“It doesn’t bother me. Let them isolate me, however, they want, but the lives of my daughters come first. Someday, they will see the benefits and change their stand,” he shrugs off the alienation.

The condemnation, though, can extend to damage one’s dignity, a right under Kenya’s Constitution. The case of millennial Joseph Lonana Korle, who has two daughters.

The 28-year-old Joseph publicly told his age group that he would never cut his daughters, presently aged 13 and seven.

“The backlash I got was horrible,” he folds his hands as he remembers the detestable experience.

He was called a “woman”, meaning he is weak, a perception the community holds against women.

“Everywhere I went I’d speak with the girls and they supported me. And because of that, the locals said I’m a community prostitute. It was too much. I was on the verge of giving up advocating against FGM when men who had seen the sense in what I was doing encouraged me to push on,” he shares.

Joseph decided to be an anti-FGM campaigner, the moment her high school sweetheart was pulled out of Form Two to be married off.

“I was deeply heartbroken,” he says in a cracked voice.

“It was in 2013 and we were both in Form Two. I told myself had it not been for this FGM practice, she’d still be in school and we would finish school and build our lives together.”

In the memory of his lost love, he started campaigning against it in his home in the Amboseli area of Kajiado South as soon as he finished Form Four in 2015. This year, his father had received the bride price in exchange for his 13-year-old sister, in Class Eight.

He wouldn’t allow it to happen. He helped her to escape to their maternal grandmother’s home from where she managed to finish her high school.

To his father, he became a black sheep, which he chased away.

Four years later, they reconciled, after his father got the grip of the fact that education is more important for his daughter than marriage.

While Joseph proceeded to train as a teacher, her sister got to enrol in nursing and his father is paying the school fees.

Joseph is currently a teacher at a local private primary school, and from time to time, he holds dialogues with older and young Maasai men.

For Lekarokia ole Nang’oro, the fruits of his defiance are sweet and refreshing.

Lekarokia ole Nang’oro at Oloitokitok, Kajiado Count,y on June 7, 2024. He says he is enjoying the sweet fruits of educating his daughters instead of forcing them to undergo FGM and marrying them off.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria I Nation Media Group

“I have eight girls and none of them is cut. They all finished school. In fact, one is selling cars in California, USA, and from time to time she invites me to visit. Actually, next week (June 10–14), I’d be flying out to visit her. She invited me. How can I not be happy?” Lekarokia recites with a sense of pride.


But what happens to those whose futures were damaged by FGM and early marriage?

“When the child becomes a woman, she can file a constitutional petition against the parents arguing that her rights to dignity, privacy and education were violated,” says Pina Njambi Ercolano, an independent consultant in ending harmful practices, currently consulting with Equality Now, an international human rights organisation.

“That is, however, unlikely to happen. What needs to be done is to sensitise the communities to the importance of education on FGM and the benefits of ending the practice,” she says.

For these men, the benefits are already in their hands.

“I speak to my fellow men, some listen to me. Some criticise me, but I’ll never stop until every man in our community stands up against mutilation,” Saruni confesses.