, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 7 – With schools closed for the holidays, for some girls there is nothing to celebrate.
The end of term marks the beginning of a ‘cutting’ season and forced early marriages – The Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The practice was declared illegal by the government in 2011. However some communities have continually stated that it’s an important part of their culture and women who do not undergo it lack authority later.
The World Health Organization estimates that at least 150 million women worldwide are victims of the practice. Every year three million girls join the list.
According to statistics from the Kenya Demographic and Health Indicator Survey (KDHS), 2015, about 1 in every 5 women in the country has undergone the brutal cut.
The survey also reveals that 1 in every 10 teenage girls aged between 15 and 19 years has undergone FGM, with more than 20pc of women over 30 years have also been mutilated.
The statistics further indicate that an estimated 9.3 million women and girls in the country have undergone genital mutilation, placing Kenya 17th among 29 countries in Africa that carry out the brutal practice.
Christine Nakoki, 19 years old from West Pokot County, is an FGM survivor and who escaped marriage three times.
Nakoki who is a 4th born in a family of seven children, underwent FGM when only ten years old and tricked into early marriage by her mother to a 54 year old man.
“Seven of us were circumcised that day and locked up in a room to heal, sadly one girl passed on due to excess bleeding,” noted the distraught Nakoki.
“After some days, my younger sister came and told me that I will be married off to a man, and so I asked who. She declined to tell me on fear that if mum knew she would be dealt with. All this while I thought of it as a joke because I thought who would want such a young girl I am still a “baby”,” giggled Nakoki.
After healing and going up and about her daily chores, some men visited Nakoki’s homestead claiming to be asking for directions, upon which her mother was quick to tell her to be “courteous” enough and show the guests direction.
That’s when it all dawned on her that the men most whom were old enough to be her grandfather had come for her after her mother had married her off.
“The one man who was my supposed husband to be held my hand so tightly and its then that I started to fight them off but I was overpowered,” said the teary Nakoki.
“My paternal uncle on hearing my screams came out and challenged the men telling them I was his daughter but instead the men pounced on him and beat him up telling him to keep off or else they kill him. My father died when I was young and so I never got to know him, hence the name “Nakoki” which means the fatherless one.”
Nakoki ended up running away from her first “husband”, consequently married off to her second and third husband who seriously beat her up almost killing her.
Nakoki who is now 16 years old eventually found refuge at Komesi Women’s Network where she is undertaking her studies and receiving skills that will enable her to fend for herself. She will be in class eight next year.
At this age most children would be heading to their last year in high school, but that’s not the case for Nakoki, due to their cultural belief which inhibits the girl child from going to school.
Nakoki’s aim now is to rescue her sisters whom she fears will undergo the practice which causes lifelong physical and mental pain.
This is just but a testimony of one of the survivors of FGM still many girls remain at risk every year of undergoing the cut.
Komesi Women’s Network which is chaired by Susan Krop comprises of 107 women who have come out to strongly condemn the practice and who have volunteered to house and rehabilitate rescued girls.
“I underwent FGM at the age of 12, the procedure I can only describe as a death penalty. I have five children of my own and have adopted seven, each woman in this network has also made that effort to bring FGM to an end,” stated Krop.
Currently there are 55 girls under the care of the Komesi Women’s Network.
It is for these reasons that ActionAid Kenya Wednesday launched a month long nationwide campaign in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation.
The campaign is aimed at creating more awareness against the practice and raise funds to build safe houses for girls across the country.
The new campaign comes as the long school holidays continue to pose a challenge to the fight against FGM in West Pokot County and other areas where girls consider schools as safe havens.
“There’s need for sustainable solutions to put an end to the vice. The solutions to ending this vice lie at the heart of the empowered women and girls in the communities t risk, challenging cultural beliefs and helping each other speak out,” said ActionAid Head of Fundraising Susan Otieno.
Statistics from the KDHS shows that in the North eastern region FGM stands at 98pc, Nyanza 32pc, Rift Valley 27pc, Easter region 26pc and western Region at 1pc.
West Pokot County alone accounts for 75pc of FGM cases.
“Areas like Taita Taveta where FGM stands at 22pc, parents are circumcising their girls when they are just days old. This is outrageous. When we sort to find out why they are doing this, we realized that it could be because it is easier to reduce public scrutiny and also because the children are unable to resist at that age,” said Otieno.
The launch event which brought together recued girls, reformed cutters, parents and siblings seeks to raise sh 14million which will go towards the construction of at least one additional safe house for the affected girls in West Pokot County.
“The campaign will target the entire country, with a special focus on areas adversely affected by FGM,” Said Otieno.