Law breakers take advantage of the lockdown to entrench retrogressive practices
By Dorcas Moraa
At exactly 5am, Metina was woken up by her mother, with instructions to go to the kitchen and prepare breakfast for the family.
To the 16-year old girl and her younger sister-from Lolmolok village in Samburu County, this was a normal day. But they were to later learn that, after all, it was not a normal morning. Their family and by extension, the community, had a different plan for them. And it would change their lives, and impact their future.
“As soon as we had stepped outside, our mother was locked up inside a separate house by an elder brother, while one of the women standing outside, said it was our turn to face what other girls have faced so as to be respected in community,” she said.
And with that, Metina and her sister were secretly subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at dawn, in the absence of their father who lives in Nairobi. This was just a month ago.
However, Metina would not stop bleeding after the cut, which prompted her mother to seek help from neighbors. They suggested that she reports to the police in Maralal.
“I was forced to report the incident to police with the help of neighbours and they in turn sent a vehicle and chief to our home to arrest me and take my daughter to hospital as the younger one ran away when she saw the police car,” she says.
The two girls are among many across Samburu and a few other counties who have been secretly subjected to FGM in the cover of darkness and at odd hours by parents-taking advantage of the lockdown and especially curfew hours as schools remain closed since March to curb the spread of the deadly Covid-19.
Observers and interest groups believe that the mass circumcision of boys- as a new age set was recently initiated in the Samburu County- has also contributed to the increase in the number of girls forced to undergo the outlawed retrogressive cut, in the past three months-since coronavirus was confirmed in Kenya and restriction measures implemented.
“Now that schools are closed, many girls are at risk, we are receiving many messages and reports of girls getting circumcised and married off,” says Dr Josephine Kulea, founder, Samburu Girls’ Foundation, an organisation that protects girls from harmful cultural practices in Northern Kenya counties.
Dr Kulea expressed fear that a large number of girls might not resume learning when schools reopen after getting subjected to the harmful cultural practices.
“I, therefore, urge government to ensure that chiefs respond to what is happening and be alert because we might not have many girls going back to schools when they reopen,” she added.
Samburu Central sub county Commissioner Moses Muiruri suspects that some chiefs could be giving a blind eye to the illicit FGM and early marriages in their locations during Covid-19 period.
“We have realized that many things are happening in villages without us knowing during this Covid-19 season. And as a chief or assistant chief, should we hear that a minor has been subjected to FGM or early marriage in your location or sub location and you have not reported, you will be sacked,” Mr Muiruri warned.
He believes that desire and value for livestock has forced some parents to marry off their daughters in exchange for cows in form of dowry.
“We have some cultures that are retarding development in this area, people highly value livestock to the extent that they withdraw children from school to take care of cattle and goats. Sometimes a parent marries off daughters to get cows which is wrong,” Mr Muiruri said.
Samburu Central Sub County Police Commander Alex Rotich has asked the community to shun harmful cultural practices and give children a chance to build their future through education.
“I urge residents of this county to abandon retrogressive practices of FGM and early marriages because they are harmful as they are denying children a chance to go to school, if we find anyone circumcising or marrying off a child, we will arrest and prosecute them,” he said.
To ensure that it meets its declared 2022 target of eradicating the female cut and early marriages, the government has declared war on the retrogressive practices. However, dodgy parents and family, in some instances in collusion with unscrupulous administrators, still find ways to break the law and violate the rights of girls, ruining their future.
Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya accuses politicians from counties that practice the FGM and other retrogressive cultural practices of failing to speak and act against them for fear of losing votes.
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced during the international summit in Nairobi-ICPD 25- last November that he would take the leadership in ensuring the practices are eradicated by 2022.