Mt Kenya officials fight sexual molestation of boys in circumcision ritual

Some of the 238 circumcised boys who successfully completed the 14-day initiation rites under Agikuyu traditions

Some of the 238 circumcised boys who successfully completed the 14-day initiation rites under Agikuyu traditions are blessed by elders during their graduation in Molo, Nakuru County, in December.

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

The Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Embu and Kiambu county security committees have joined hands to fight an archaic tradition among newly circumcised boys of having unprotected sex as a cleansing ritual.

The tradition, that has held currency over the years, has it that a newly circumcised boy must have sex so as to cleanse the wounds.

The boys are procuring services from commercial sex workers in the ritual that is known as “gwíthamba mbiro” (washing off the soot). The government is concerned that it propagates underage sex and child defilement.

“It is extremely distressing to get information that this archaic piece of tradition has gone commercial. It is utter nonsense and we are teaming up to jointly address it,” said Thika West Deputy County Commissioner Mbogo Mathioya.

Full punishment

Mr Mathioya said, “our young initiates aged below 18 years are trooping to Thika, Kenol, Karatina, Othaya, Kagio, Embu, Makutano and Mwea where there are commercial sex workers to partake in the ritual”.

He added, “any commercial sex worker caught with an underage boy will be risking full punishment as per the law”.

“We have deployed our ground forces to keep vigil,” said Samuru Assistant County Commissioner Teresiah Isaacs, adding that “it used to be practised in the olden days but modernity has rendered it irrelevant and downright criminal.”

She said all chiefs and their assistants have been ordered to remain vigilant “because it is one avenue that even encourages defilement in the villages as a form of a sport for the initiates”.

Already, a parents’ association in Mbeere South has written to the Eastern Region security committee complaining that the ritual is practised openly in Makutano town.

“Kindly note that young boys this New Year are trooping into this town to buy sex as a cleansing ritual after circumcision. This is whereby a boy participates in unprotected sex as a healing [mechanism],” the December 2 letter reads.

Sexual encounter

Mbeere South Police boss Ms Inviolata Lumati confirmed seeing the report that was filed through the 988 hotlines, saying, it is being acted on.

Nation understands that the initiates are being charged between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000 for a brief sexual encounter.

Murang’a County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo expressed shock at the reports, saying, a crackdown had been launched to arrest the adult perpetrators of such an outdated ritual. Mr Ngumo said: “Such are the perfect examples of backwardness that will never take the society to modernity”.

Noting that police officers on the ground had been placed on high alert, the administrator stressed that “there is no government that can allow such a practice to gain currency and it remains a serious crime to be caught progressing it”.

“I hope that those planning are aware that having sex with a minor remains against our laws,” said Mr Ngumo. Boys in the region are usually circumcised when they are aged between 12 and 17 years.

Circumcisions are often carried out after they have sat their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams. The primary school leaving exam has, since the onset of the 8-4-4 education system, signified readiness among boys for the cut.

This was after teachers expressed reservations about male pupils being subjected to the rite of passage while still in primary school as it encouraged indiscipline among boys who were now reluctant to follow orders on account of becoming “ men”.

“In the olden days, this soot washing through sex was a dominant ritual for circumcised boys,” Kiama Kia Ma Council of Elders facilitator Mugwe Njiru said.

“It was an acceptable thing and it was being treated as normal and above board. It was automatic that the initiates would have consensual sex with girls in the village, it was normal,” he added.

Girls, the elder explained, would go around the village pairing with the newly initiated boys and no one frowned upon the practice. “It was part of the ceremony,” said Mr Njiru.

“The initiates were often of age, they averaged 15 years and some went up to 30 years. Given that there were no risks such as sexually transmitted diseases, we were all happy to encourage our youths to freely mate,” Me Njiru said. Mr Njiru, however, admitted that, in the contemporary period, “it sounds absurd to encourage the practice that given that both the law and religion are against it”.

Federation of African Women Educationist Coordinator Lilian Mwaniki dismissed the ritual as emanating from an outdated mindset.

“All those caught perpetuating the criminal ritual should be prosecuted and convicted as per the rule of law,” Ms Mwaniki said.

“Who in this life and times would advocate for unprotected sex between a minor and an adult? Does it not even obviously sound like madness?” Ms Mwaniki posed.

She said the security agencies and all citizens have a joint duty to express solidarity in fighting the vice.