News / Africa

In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcisioni
Mohammed Yusuf
August 19, 2014 5:59 PM
In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

It's the last day of school in Tharaka-Nithi, a community in Kenya’s remote former Eastern province. Classrooms are empty, signaling the start of a one-month break for students.

It’s also the most common period for female genital mutilation.

But here, as in some other African communities, females as young as seven face intense social pressure for the procedure. If they refuse to be cut, they risk stigma and victimization.

A few hundred meters away from the school compound, 12-year-old Mercy helps her mother with household chores. Mercy fears cutting but, unlike many young girls in this place, she knows her rights.

On several occasions, she has told her mother that if she even thinks of taking her to be cut, Mercy will report her to local authorities.

"My two daughters who have not been circumcised, I think they will finish their education," said Alice Karea, Mercy’s mother. "And now if you tell them to be circumcised, especially the elder one, she threatens me that she will report me to the chief."

In this community, girls who undergo the cut abandon school. Their culture holds that they’re mature enough for marriage.

Social mores contribute to the practice, said Tom Okeyo, a program manager for Plan International Inc.-Kenya, a nonprofit organization promoting children’s rights.

Once girls begin menstruating – some by age nine – “naturally, they are moving [to the] next stage in their development,” Okeyo said. The local community views the development as “a transition that makes you a woman.”

The procedure involves the partial or complete removal of female genitalia; it can cause problems from severe bleeding to urinary tract infections to infertility, the World Health Organization explains.

Fighting with education, penalties

Inside the local government compound, a local chief has called together a group of women circumcisers, warning them of penalties if they are found engaging in FGM.

"The chief has warned we will be arrested and jailed for three years," said circumciser Laurencia Kaburi, who cited an alternate fine of 200,000 shillings or $2,240. "We don't have that kind of money. So we will try our best not to circumcise girls."

But some parents remain eager to have their girls cut. Some in African and Middle East cultures believe FGM removes "unclean" body parts and reduces a female’s interest in "illicit" sex, the WHO explains.

No one knows if Kaburi and other women will be true to their words. It’s hard to resist the money offered by parents, especially when the women circumcisers have their own children and grandchildren to look after.

The WHO estimates that each year more than three million girls in Africa – primarily in western, eastern and northeastern regions – are at risk of mutilation.

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Comment Sorting
by: eusebio manuel vestias from: Portugal
August 22, 2014 6:53 AM
A little more justice to girls of Keya

by: Magunga Lamow from: Brundi
August 20, 2014 1:09 PM
Female circumcision and female genital mutilation is Islam thing, it has nothing to do with non Muslim people. Why Kenya authority trying to educate non-Muslim Kenyans about this? It's not fair!
In Response

by: Sayydah from: USA
August 20, 2014 10:02 PM
Magunga! Where on earth did you get this incorrect information??? The vast majority of girls being circumcised in Kenya are NOT MUSLIM! Our NGO, Pastoralist Child Foundation educates communities in Samburu and Maasai Mara where circumcision rates are as high as 95% and the people are Christian or practice tribal religions. Please visit our website to learn more. and also visit our Facebook page. One more thing - Female circumcision is not prescribed in the Qur'an but, unfortunately, many illiterate Muslims do not know this and continue the harmful practice because they believe it's part of the religion. We look forward to the day when FGM will finally be eradicated.

by: Valgus from: Los Estados Unidos
August 20, 2014 8:04 AM
This barbaric custom is especially dangerous for all involved with the mortal threat of Ebola Virus spreading to many countries in Africa.
Good for the young girls that refuse. They finally have the law on their side to back them up.

by: Sherman D. Oaks from: Los Angeles
August 20, 2014 7:39 AM
Not too many people are concerned that the United States does this to most of the male babies born there. If a boy wants to be circumcised, he should be old enough to make that decision himself, the whole idea of mutilating children's genitalia is absurd in the first place. Nature created us as we should be, we're not Doberman Pincers having bits and pieces snipped off to appease some standard. Ridiculousness! At least in Kenya they are starting to at least fine the mutilators, it's a start.
In Response

by: Jack Perry from: NY
August 25, 2014 10:33 AM
As to male genital cutting, The severe harm to sexual function and pleasure are ignored or downplayed by the genital parts removal pushers. The long term harm to the male is huge with nerve damage and harm to the sensory system. It is estimated that from about 10000 to 100000 specialized nerve endings are cut with this WOUNDING.
In Response

by: Valgus from: Los Estados Unidos
August 22, 2014 7:45 AM
Good comment, Sherman. “Female Circumcision” is a euphemism. It is genital mutilation. Vulvectomy, clitorectomy, labiectomy, leaves the individual mutilated, scarred and damaged for life, if not mortally wounded or infected as sequellae, post procedure. The male circumcision, performed in the USA as you mentioned, is an ethical, recognized surgical procedure with recognized hygienic and public health significance. Male circumcision on an adult can be a problematic and a higher risk surgery; compared to circumcising a new born infant. Nature created us with an appendix, also; which many would have preferred to not have.

The cropping of Dobermans (dogs) ears is indeed controversial. However, dogs with erect ears tend to have fewer problems with otitis externa (external ear canal inflammation and infections). Granted the tail docking, ear cropping and dew claw removal tend to be cosmetic rather than necessary.

Mutilating children's genitalia is absurd. Infibulation is indeed a barbaric custom to keep girls and women subjugated in society.
In Response

by: Hernest Ondigo from: Kenya
August 21, 2014 2:48 AM
This is a pure power play where the invisible script is given to women and made to supress their very own. Killing the emotional woman they ought to be and leaving a traumatised being who is eventually cheated on by the very men who make the script of what is acceptable and not. They are made to believe that they can never marry without being cut yet their men on discovering the vibrance from the non cutting community,and marry the non circumcised. This power play must be challanged by laying bare the truth.

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