Elgeyo Marakwet babies undergoing FGM in the name of culture

Girls during an anti-FGM drive in Tot area of Marakwet East of Elgeyo Marakwet county, December 2, 2017. /STEPHEN RUTTO
Girls during an anti-FGM drive in Tot area of Marakwet East of Elgeyo Marakwet county, December 2, 2017. /STEPHEN RUTTO

Can you imagine subjecting your eight-year-old daughter to FGM? What about your six-year-old?

This is a trend that is emerging among some of the communities in Elgeyo Marakwet, county director of children and social services Magrin Serem has warned.

FGM is illegal. Many communities that carry on with the practice do so undercover— in secret and away from the prying eyes of the authorities. But circumcising children, particularly among the Marakwets, has been unheard of until now.

Traditionally, only girls in their early to late teens were supposed to undergo FGM.

“In Marakwet, they have gone a different way from other communities where FGM is practised. They started circumcising underage girls in 2015, that is girls in baby class or those who are eight years old and above. Many of the mothers engaged in this are semi-illiterate and are pushing to have their young daughters circumcised,” says Serem..

Circumcising underage girls is not culturally accepted as the age of circumcision is usually girls who are 12 or 13 years old.

Serem says the women were opting to have their daughters circumcised early to avoid consequences of the Anti-FGM law which provides a punishment of between three to seven years imprisonment, and/or a fine of Sh200,000 for circumcising girls under 18 years.

Anyone who causes death through FGM faces life imprisonment.

The

not only criminalises FGM for underage girls but also bans the stigmatisation of women who have not undergone FGM

in a bid to tackle social pressure.

The 2011 Act also provides for the prosecution of those who perform FGM and anyone who aids such a person or who knowingly fails to report knowledge of such acts.

A shows that only 27.2 per cent of women aged 15 - 49 years were circumcised between the ages of 10 and 14 while 70.9 percent were circumcised at 15 years and above. Those circumcised between five and nine years old represent only 1.5 per cent of the total.

“Not all the men are okay with the circumcision of underage girls because they consider it harmful. However, most of them usually don’t care as long as they receive their busaa and meat, which is usually provided by the family of the girl to mark the occasion,” Serem says.

'INCOMPLETE WITHOUT CIRCUMCISION'

According to Serem,

community elders insist that only 'mature’ girls - those aged 12-13 - undergo FGM.

She also cited another emerging trend in Keiyo South where married women who already have children and those who were past child-bearing age undergo FGM.

“This is happening due to cultural pressures. The women are told they cannot have their sons circumcised if they are not cut. There are some cultural initiations you have to undergo before you circumcise your son. They have been misrepresented to the women."

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Girls during an anti-FGM drive in Tot area of Marakwet East of Elgeyo Marakwet county, December 2, 2017. /STEPHEN RUTTO

Roselyn Chepkemboi, 20, who is married with two children, recalls the pressure from her husband and in-laws because she was not cut. She says her husband insisted that she go for the cut and described her as being "incomplete".

“When I refused to obey his orders, he threatened to leave me for a circumcised woman. At the time, we had only one child,” says Chepkemboi who lives in Cheglet area, between Keiyo and the Marakwet border in Elgeyo Marakwet County.

Without her knowledge, her husband started making plans for her to be cut. When she was giving birth to her second child, a daughter, Chepkemboi was circumcised without her knowledge.

“My labour pains started while I was at home so l couldn’t get to the hospital. Several women from the neighbourhood came to assist me," Chepkemboi tearfully recalls.

"It was after l delivered and while they were attending to me that the women subjected me to FGM. I didn’t know my husband had made plans for them to cut me. It was double pain for me. They cut me immediately after I delivered. I had no choice."

Following the cut, Chepkemboi confronted her husband.

“I told him I was not happy with what he did but he didn’t seem bothered. I believe this was because he too had been under pressure from his family and friends to ensure that I got cut."

Even though her community fully embraces the cut, Chepkemboi refused to undergo FGM based on her Christian beliefs. Her two elder sisters faced the knife but one of her younger sisters managed to escape.

She is worried about what will happen to her sister as well as her daughters.

“I don’t like the circumcision of girls. It’s not good at all. I will not subject my daughters to the cut no matter what but what worries me is what will happen when they grow up," she says.

"Will they be forced into it like l was? The only good thing that has come out of this is that my husband has embraced religion and doesn’t want our daughters to be cut."

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ENDLESS CYCLE

During a recent monitoring and evaluation exercise by the United Nations Population Fund and the Anti-FGM board, the Elgeyo Marakwet's public administration executive Pamela Rono says FGM is done concurrently with male circumcision.

While noting that FGM in the Marakwet community takes place every five or 10 years, she urged continuous efforts to stamp out the practise.

“FGM is more pronounced in Marakwet East. They have a season for it. They do their female circumcisions maybe once in five years or 10 years. It can take that long so you’ll find that after it has been done, there will be silence for a very long time. You undertake many interventions only for it to come up again."

Among the Marakwet, FGM is done through age sets, the most even having been held in 2016/17.

Media reports emerged of girls being circumcised in Elgeyo Marakwet especially during the November and December holidays. The FGM ‘season’ also coincided with increased incidents of cattle rustling.

Rono correlated the season of the cut with the theft of cattle.

“Once a boy has undergone circumcision, he is expected to marry. The same applies to girls who have undergone FGM.

For a man to get married, he needs cows to pay for dowry," Rono explains.

"Where will he get the cows from? Traditionally, this person is considered a warrior so he has to look for cows so that he can pay the bride price. When you see a lot of cattle rustling, it means ‘warriors’ have just been circumcised and that there are girls who have also undergone FGM and are ready for marriage."

The Marakwets are part of the Kalenjin community, located in the Rift Valley region.

According to the

, 26.9 percent of women aged 15 - 49 years have been circumcised.

A file photo of Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos with students of Sing'ore Girls' High School. /MATHEWS NDANYI

As mitigation, the county is considering providing alternative sources of income for women who carry out the cut. Each girl pays Sh1,000 to undergo FGM.

Serem notes the need to empower circumcisers and youth in Elgeyo Marakwets as one way of curbing the illegal practice in the county.

She says the county is reviewing suggestions of income-generating projects such as giving the circumcisers goats for milk. The county is also working with community-based organisations to engage boys and young men in creating awareness on the harmful practice.

“The men, especially the young ones, are the consumers or beneficiaries of FGM so the boy child has to be thoroughly sensitised," Serem says.

"And since it’s an income-generating activity, the women should be given an alternative source of income. It’s difficult to convince them to stop cutting girls as that is how they earn their living. Circumcising one girl costs Sh1,000 so you can calculate the amounts they get when they circumcise 100 girls."