Why Uhuru's FGM deadline may not be met

President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi. He committed in 2019 to ending FGM in December 2022.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:


  • Despite spirited campaigns by the government and other stakeholders, cases of girls being cut continue to be reported in 22 FGM hotspot counties.
  • There is news of the re-emergence of FGM in some new areas like Central Kenya where the outlawed cultural practice was abandoned more than three decades ago.

With only seven months remaining to the December 2022 deadline to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country, uncertainty looms over whether the presidential directive will be achieved.

Despite spirited campaigns by the government and other stakeholders in the anti-FGM movement, cases of girls being cut continue to be reported in some areas of the 22 FGM hotspot counties.

Worse still, there is news of the re-emergence of FGM in some new areas like Central Kenya where the outlawed cultural practice was abandoned more than three decades ago.

These unfolding developments have got the state and other stakeholders in the anti-FGM fight worried as they are eroding the gains made.

So, what main reasons could make the country’s December 2022 deadline not be realised?

Cross-border crisis

Cross-border FGM remains a thorn in the side of the government and other partners. Cases of girls being taken to neighbouring countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia continue to be reported.

Towards the end of December last year, the news of massive cutting of girls in the Kuria region dominated mainstream and social media. What was meant to be enjoyable December holidays turned into agony for more than 50 girls who were mutilated in Mabera sub-county following the closure of schools.

Details later emerged that some of the girls had allegedly been sneaked into Tanzania, where they were cut before being returned. And so cross-border FGM is now emerging as a major threat to the fight against the outlawed practice, with details emerging that parents and elders are resorting to neighboring countries to evade prosecution.

In an earlier interview with Nation.Africa, Anti-FGM Board CEO Bernadette Loloju confirmed that FGM is rampant in the neighboring countries, thus posing a major challenge. She blamed it for the surge in cases in Kuria West and Kuria East.

Need for surveillance

“Girls from Kenya sneaked into Tanzania where they were being cut and later brought to their homes on the Kenyan side. Cross-border FGM is real, but my team, together with security agencies, are on the ground to ensure the border is secure,” said Ms Loloju.

She said the government had beefed up security and put other stringent border measures, and warned parents and elders against allowing their girls to be cut as they will be held liable and responsible.

Ms Domitila Chesang, the founder of I-Am Response Foundation, an organisation that fights FGM and child marriages in West Pokot, told Nation.Africaporous borders are a major setback to the war on FGM.

Ms Chesang revealed that girls in the area are sometimes sneaked into Uganda where they are cut before being brought back home and married off. The anti-FGM activist noted that stringent measures and proper surveillance at the border points are needed to curb this menace.

“If we are keen to eliminate cross-border FGM, then we have to put up police stations at the borders points, which must also be equipped with gender desks to handle cases related to gender violence,” she said.

Cultist groups

Emerging cultural groups in some areas pose another major challenge. Just recently, reports emerged that FGM was slowly making a comeback in Central Kenya, with some emerging cultural groupings being blamed for the move.

The radical cultural groups said to be rampant in Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri and Laikipia counties are propagating the circumcision of women to allegedly repay “a debt to grandmothers (Thiiri wa cucu)”.

Gender and human rights activists are now apprehensive that the return of FGM in the region could strike a major blow at the ongoing national campaign.

Last month, eight girls were subjected to the cut in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County, something that saw their parents subsequently arrested and arraigned on suspicion of complicity.

Due to the unfolding developments, activists are now calling on the government to ruthlessly deal with emerging cults that advocate the cut, to protect girls and women.

Medicalisation

Medicalisation of FGM is another major hurdle standing in the way of the fight. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, about 15 per cent of girls and women, or nearly 36,000 aged 15-49, had been cut by a doctor, nurse, or midwife.

This rate, however, represents a decline in the proportion of women in this age group who reported to have been cut by a medical practitioner, from 19.7 per cent in 2008/09.

Medicalisalised FGM is normally carried out in hospitals, at home, or at neutral places using surgical tools, antiseptics, and anaesthetics.

Unicef puts medicalisation rates as being highest in five countries, with Sudan topping the list at 67 per cent, followed by Egypt (38 per cent), Guinea (15 per cent), Kenya (15 per cent), and Nigeria (13 per cent). It continues to rise in all but Nigeria.

In Kenya, medicalisation has been rampant among the Abagusii and Somali communities. It was found to occur in urban and rural areas but more common in urban areas.

According to Unicef, about four million girls and women in Kenya have undergone FGM. Overall, 21 per cent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to the cut.

Kenya banned the practice in 2011, paving the way for the Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011, which carries a minimum punishment of three-year imprisonment and a Sh200,000 fine.

Some 22 counties in the country are considered FGM hotspots. They include Samburu, Kisii, Nyamira, Narok, Kajiado, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Isiolo, Tana River, Tharaka-Nithi, Taita-Taveta, Kwale, Wajir, Mandera and Garrissa.

Ray of hope

Despite the drawbacks, there is hope that the vice will be eliminated after five countries in Eastern Africa in November last year launched a regional action plan.

Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia aims to use the plan to eradicate the cross-border FGM. The plan was launched by gender ministers drawn from the five countries during a high-level inter-ministerial meeting, which was also used to launch the study on FGM among the cross-border communities.

The plan entails development of a comprehensive programme of action aimed at strengthening the urgent work of implementing regional human rights instruments that call for elimination of FGM. It also constitutes a framework at the regional level for state and non-state actors to enhance prevention, protection, and prosecution programmes in ending cross-border FGM, which also sets out a regional mechanism to support regional and national efforts.

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