Inside the Kenya-TZ cross border FGM

Former Gender PS Safina Kwekwe (seated second right) signs an agreement, to end circumcision of Maasai girls, with cultural elders from Loita in Kenya and their kin from Nkororngoro in Tanzania, in 2019. Cross-border FGM is a major hurdle in the fight against the vice in Kenya.

Photo credit: George Sayagie | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Cross-border FGM is a major hurdle in the fight against the vice in Kenya, a country where the government seeks to end the practice by next year, just one month away.
  • Tanzania's FGM prevalence (10 per cent) is half Kenya’s (21 per cent).
  • Maasai community in Kenya have relatives in Tanzania, making it easier for them to take their girls for the cut in the guise of a normal visit.

Lekarokia Ole Nang’oro stands on a rock at Olkiloriti in Oloitoktok, Kajiado South Sub-county, Kajiado County. He looks over Mbomai village in Tanzania, which is across.

He is at the Tanzania-Kenya border. There is no fencing or clear mark of the boundary. It’s like an open field.

A few minutes later, a boda boda operator rides a passenger from Tanzania to Kenya, across the border. There is no security officer to establish permit for the travel.

And that is how easy girls are moved from Kenya to Tanzania to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).

Cross-border FGM is a major hurdle in the fight against the vice in Kenya, a country where the government seeks to end the practice by next year, just one month away.

Tanzania's FGM prevalence (10 per cent) is half Kenya’s (21 per cent).

On legislation, Kenya has an express law in Prohibition of FGM Act 2011, which outlaws FGM on a girl and woman, and further prohibits cross-border FGM.

Under the law, an offender earns a jail-term of not less than three years, or a fine not below Sh200,000.

From left: Lekarokia Ole Nang'oro, the chairman of Nyumba Kumi in Kajiado County, Nkabani Nkirrandu and Mr Nkabani's mother.

Photo credit: Joseph Ngunjiri | Nation Media Group

In Tanzania, the government prohibits FGM under its Sexual Offences Special Provision Act 1998, which criminalises the act on girls under 18 years. Those convicted of the crime are imprisoned for five to 15 years or fined up to TSh300,000 (Ksh14,471).

Anti-FGM advocates attribute this lack of harmonised law as one of the reasons why cross-border FGM is rampant between Kenya and Tanzania.

Meanwhile, girls continue to suffer in the hands of their parents and relatives.

Maasai community in Kenya have relatives in Tanzania, making it easier for them to take their girls for the cut in the guise of a normal visit.

A case of Talei (her identity protected) from Rombo, Kajiado South.

A week after schools closed for December holidays in 2018, her paternal uncle visited.

Later, her father informed her that she was to accompany her uncle to visit a friend in Userri, Tanzania, she was 14 years.

They took a bus and arrived in the homestead of a woman she had never met before. After two days, the host told her she had been brought to undergo the cut.

And with a razor, she accomplished the mission.

“I could have run away if I was in Kenya,” she says

On her return home, a week later, she noticed unusual happenings in their homestead.

“I saw a man bring five cows, a blanket and sugar. It didn't bother me until a friend to my mother told me my dowry had been paid,” she narrates.

“We didn't have any cattle. I understand my father was trying to escape poverty through me. And I know he couldn't manage to see me through school since he had nothing,” says Talei.

She was later rescued after her mother's friend informed the police of the plans to marry her off. She was taken to a rescue centre in Kajiado County and the management enrolled her in a local school to continue with her studies.

She says her mother could not protect her from the arranged marriage because “she has no power to say ‘No’ to her husband's decisions.

Neema’s (identity protected) grandmother lives in Lang'ata, Tanzania.

In December 2015, soon after closure of schools, she visited their home in Njukini, Kajiado South. On her return, she said she was leaving with her so she could keep her company till schools reopen in January. She was nine years then.

They left and the following day, she woke her up to cut her.

“She told me I am a big girl and it was time for me to be cut. So she cut me by herself using a razor. By then, I had no clue that the cut is harmful or illegal. I just agreed to it. After a week, I was fine and would go about household chores,” she says.

She returned home in January 2016, only for her father to inform her that she was ready for marriage.

Neema says: “My father is poor. He struggled to feed and educate the six of us. He would get cows through my marriage. There is nothing I would have done had the suitor finally come for me.”

She was rescued by her cousin, who placed her in a school for girls saved from FGM and early marriage, in Kajiado County.

Oloitoktok Senior Chief Isaiah Ole Samana, during the interview at Oloitoktok town in Kajiado South Sub-county, Kajiado County on September 28, 2021.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria | Nation Media Group

Poverty is bringing a tug-of-war in the fight against FGM, says Mr Lekarokia, the chairperson of Kajiado County Nyumba Kumi Initiative.

He shows us the vast swathes of the porous borders through which girls are ferried at night using boda bodas.

“Here, FGM is a sort of pre-requisite for wealth. The fathers will tell you if I cut my daughter and marry her off, I'll get five or six cows,” he says.

Often, the girls are transported at night to avoid arrest, he says.

“There are many unsecured routes that these criminals (those who take the girls for the cut) use,” he says.

To curb the criminal activity, the Nyumba Kumi leaders resolved to ban cross-border travel by boda boda beyond 10pm and before 6am.

Emergency travels to seek medical attention were allowed in the curfew hours. But the Nyumba Kumi leader would have to be notified with the name of the hospital to be visited and the need for emergency treatment noted.

They would then inform authorities in Tanzania to establish whether it's a genuine case or disguised to subject the girls to the cut.

Mr Lekarokia says girls are mostly taken to Tanzania during the long December holidays. During this time, they rescue up to six girls.

Last year, he says, they saved eight girls who were being transported to Tanzania by the boda boda riders for the cut.

In all the instances, the parents had pre-planned with the cutters on committing the crime. The riders were to only deliver the girls.

“The parents used to take them to Tanzania hospitals but started avoiding them when they realised we were following up. So now they do it in the homesteads. They either invite the doctor there, or allow a traditional cutter to do it,” he explains.

Tanzania’s Inspector Paul Kimassa, during the interview with at Oloitoktok in Kajiado County, on September 28, 2021.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria | Nation Media Group

Tanzania's Inspector Paul Kimassa says it is difficult to tell the data on Kenyan girls brought into the country for the cut.

He says the deep secrecy in which cross-border FGM is done and the local's conspiracy to abet the crime, complicates monitoring of the criminal activity.

“The people prefer to avoid reporting these cases to remain in good books with their neighbours,” he says.

But together with their Kenyan authorities along the border, including the police, chiefs and Nyumba Kumi leaders, they continue to sensitise the locals from both sides on community policing

“Once we do the arrests, we return the Kenyan nationals to Kenya for the authorities to follow through with prosecution. While we conduct our own investigations and prosecute those from Tanzania,” he says.

Ms Judy Mamkwe, a Tanzanian local from Kikelwa in Kilimanjaro region, reported five cases of cross-border FGM last year, having been informed of the role of the community in saving the girls from the cut.

Judy Mamkwe, a Tanzanian citizen, during the interview at the Kenya-Tanzania border in Oloitoktok, Kajiado County, on September 28, 2021.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria | Nation Media Group

“I have to be discreet in the way I inform the authorities to avoid reprisal,” says Ms Mamkwe, whose role shows the importance of sensitising locals on community policing.

“I try as much as possible to speak with my fellow women to stop aiding the crime by refusing to cut the girls or report those who bring the girls for the cut,” she says.

To end cross-border FGM, there is need for speedy prosecution of offenders and more resourcing of the relevant institutions especially local administration, security agencies and anti-FGM organisations, the stakeholders say.

“Kenyan government has not allocated adequate and sufficient resources to ensure full implementation of the Anti-FGM Act and eliminate FGM in the country,” says Equality Now, End Harmful Practices Program Officer Caroline Lagat.

She says East African Community member states should commit themselves to passing a regional law, which will criminalise FGM across all countries and mandate them to coordinate to end FGM.

“Presently, laws across the territories of the EAC Member States vary with some having no law prohibiting FGM. They should also implement the Regional Declaration and Action Plan to Address FGM which they adopted in April 2019,” she says.

She urges for the sensitisation of the boda boda riders "so they can provide information to law enforcement officers when they suspect they are being hired to aid and abet FGM.”

Dorcus Parit, founder of Hope Beyond Foundation, which is actively involved in rescuing girls at risk of FGM and child marriage, says in the past six months, they have rescued 20 girls in Kajiado South Sub-county.

Hope Beyond Foundation founder Dorcus Parit, during the interview at Oloitoktok town in Kajiado County, on September 28, 2021. She rescues and educates girls at risk of FGM.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria | Nation Media Group

“In all the 20 cases, the perpetrators were arrested and taken to court. The cases are ongoing. Speedy conviction of the perpetrators will discourage others from supporting FGM or child marriage,” she says.

Oloitoktok Senior Chief Isaiah Ole Samana, says girls from Endonet, Rombo, Lenkisim, Oltiasika and Kuku are at most risk of cross-border FGM.

And due to the expansiveness of the area, it is difficult to respond quickly when such cases are reported due to limited resources.

“We would end this cross-border FGM had each division had a vehicle,” he says.

“For instance, there is one vehicle attached to DC (Deputy County Commissioner) and two to the police and often they are in operation. If we were to rescue a girl in Lenkisim, by the time we get a vehicle, she would have crossed the border.”


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