• They remained locked in Tangulbei day and boarding primary school since learning was suspended countrywide owing to the Covid-19 pandemic in March.
•The girls are among 82 rescued from forceed FGM and early marriage in Tiaty villages.
"Better hell than going back home."
Those are the words one of eight recent FGM escapees who fear for their lives as they remain locked for their own safety at Tangulbei Primary School in Tiaty, Baringo county.
The school is closed because of Covid-19.
FGM is common during the rainy season – April, May and June – and December and the girls are at high risk. It is usually performed in secret these days.
They are among 82 who fled their parents who wanted to subject them to female genital mutilation, which is illegal, and to early marriages.
“My father threatened to kill me with a panga when I refused to join my mates to face the cut. He wanted to marry me off to an old man,” a girl identified only as Sharon said.
She says she is still young and wants to purse her education to better her life.
“Better hell than going back home. I fear my angry father whom I escaped three years ago. He still might kill me.” Sharon told the Star on Wednesday.
Faith fled her mother and brothers at Kalabata village in 2017.
“They wanted to kill me when I refused to be cut and married to a grandfather,” she said.
The girls, aged between eight and 14 years, were rescued from Mukutani, Kerelwo, Kasitet, Kalabata, Akwichatis, Silale, Paka Hills, Maram and the Mondi border of Baringo and Laikipia counties between March 2017 and January this year.
The school chairwoman Mary Kuket said the eight refused to go home when the government suspended learning countrywide in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They even preferred dying of hunger in the boarding facility than going to their parents. Some were shedding tears,” Kuket said. Of course, the girls are being fed and cared for.
Kuket, who is also the Tangulbei Women’s Network chairwoman, said the girls feared their parents would force them to be mutilated and ruin their lives.
She said the government has not set up any rescue centre to shelter girls fleeing or rescued from FGM, “forcing us to squeeze them in the school”.
“Girls are highly valued in the Pokot community. They are treated as a source of quick wealth because once they are teenagers, their much older and wealthy suitors pay dowry livestock,” Kuket said.
She said most of the FGM escapees were released with the rest of the school to go home after their parents promised to take care of them until learning resumes.
“We cautioned their parents through the local chiefs to protect the girls from gender-based violence, although we are not sure,” Kuket said.
She said they were not able to trace the parents of the eight girls. “We could not risk setting them free.”
The girls were comfortably carrying on with their learning before the onset of Covid-19, she said.
School head Francis Merinyang said due to their levels of illiteracy, the girls were admitted to Standards 3 to 5. He appealed to the national and county governments and well-wishers to provide security for the girls, donate food, clothing, masks, sanitiser, soap and sanitary pads to the stranded girls.
A mentor from area, Cynthia Kemei, said she resisted FGM to pursue her education. She is a second-year student majoring in Education at Rongo University.
“When I am free, I normally come here to share some of my life experiences and encourage these less fortunate teenagers here,” Kemai said.
FGM and early marriage are common throughout the Rift Valley, though many girls and women want to go to school to better their lives.
Kuket said this is the high season for Pokots to initiate girls through FGM. Last year, at least 2,000 girls were forced to secretly undergo the cut in the bush in Tiaty.
“Local leaders face many threats while attempting to arrest the perpetrators,” she said. Some politicians have admitted they are afraid to speak out and campaign against the practice lest they lose votes since being elected is more important than helping girls.
(Edited by V. Graham)