NAIROBI, September 8 – The war on Female Genital Mutilation and Cut (FGM/C) will not be won in Kenya unless the law is amended to impose stiffer penalties for offenders, a Cabinet Minister said Monday.,
Gender and Children Affairs Minister Esther Murugi said there was urgent need to amend the Children’s Act and impose life imprisonment for offenders, including parents, relatives, and husbands.
Medical practitioners and traditional healers would also find themselves on the receiving end in the proposed amendment.
The Minister said the law had become the greatest impediment to the fight against FGM/C, arguing that it was ‘too lenient’ on offenders.
“May be we need to jail a few offenders for life to send a strong message,” she said at a forum on anti-FGM/C in Nairobi.
Murugi tabled what she termed as ‘shocking statistics’ of a government study that was funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Population Council on the prevalence rate amongst communities practicing the act in Kenya.
In the latest statistics, the Abagusii, Kuria, Maasai and Somalis are rated at 90 percent followed by Taita and Taveta at 62 percent.
The Kalenjin are rated at 48 percent, Embu (44) while Meru was 42 percent.
The 2007 report further indicated that some ethnic communities did not practice FGM/C, notably the Luo, Luhya, Turkana and Teso which recorded a prevalence of one percent each.
“In Central Province, we used to think there was no more circumcision, but the rate has now gone up to 27 percent,” she said. “This is alarming, and we need an urgent solution to put this to a halt because our girls are being forced to undergo the cut.”
Murugi said her ministry was putting up a spirited campaign in the affected areas to sensitise people on the effects of the practice.
She also accused the police of frustrating the war against FGM/C ‘because they do not respond in time to arrest offenders’.
“We have had situations where the police are called to rescue a girl undergoing the act and they say it is a domestic matter that do not need their attention. This is one of the frustrations my officers undergo at the ministry,” she said, citing a recent incident in Narok.
She added: “And that is why we need the law to be amended to make this act a serious criminal offence.”
Murugi said she would be taking up the issue with women who appear to support FGM/C with the influence of their husbands.
“That is why I am telling women to stop doing things for the sake of doing things. They should look at the effects. It is time they realised that the FGM/C does not add any value to their lives,” she said.
A participant invited to speak at the forum caused laughter when she said ‘it was a criminal offence to pluck out that which was created by God.’
FGM/C is seen internationally as a violation of many women’s and children’s rights, such as health, to be free from gender discrimination, to life and to freedom from torture including the inherent dignity of a person.
It is practiced as a right of passage amongst girls aged between 12 and 17 years in many ethnic communities in Kenya.
Section 14 of the Children’s ACT outlaws FGM/C, stating that; ‘no person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs, or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect children’s life, health, social welfare, dignity or physical or psychological development.’
This law has limitations in that it protects girls only up to the age of 17 years and does not protect women from being forcefully circumcised.
“By placing FGM/C within the Children’s Act, it is seen as a children’s issue rather than being of wider significance and therefore carries little weight,” Murugi protested.
The UNFPA-funded report also faults the Kenyan law for the increased prevalence in the country.
“It is not a stand-alone law and the absence of FGM/C legislation in the Sexual Offences Act is a lost opportunity as it may be more effectively implemented within this framework,” it states.