Some 33 Pokot girls rescued from forced female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage are being housed at Tangulbei Primary School in Tiaty subcounty, Baringo county.
The school’s facilities are however congested and an NGO is appealing to the government and well-wishers for humanitarian help to make the girls comfortable.
“We have tried to purchase some school uniforms and mattresses for the girls but more effects such as beds, shoes and sanitary towels are still needed,” Tangulbei Women’s Network chairperson Mary Kuket told the media during a recent visit to the school .
Head teacher Musa Terter said he placed the girls in standard one to three as they are illiterate and had difficulty interacting with their learned agemates.
The girls were rescued from Karoiwo, Kabalabata, Kakaryakales, Kasitet, Kasokon, Bombo and Korolwo villages between May and June.
At least 2,000 girls from the Pokot community in Tiaty still undergo FGM, despite a government ban, in August and December, when the rite of passage is usually carried out.
Kuket said the girls are now on their own, after running away from their hostile parents who wanted them to get circumcised and married, either to youths and old men.
The teenage girls aged 10 to 14 cannot speak English or Kiswahili, just their mother tongue. Most of them do not even know how old they are.
Tiaty East assistant county commissioner Steve Muonge warned parents against going after the girls, saying they will be arrested and will face the full force of the law.
Mary*, 13, a standard two pupil from Riongo village, Tiaty East, said her parents wanted to have her circumcised and married to a 50-year old man in February.
Mary vowed not to go back home as her angry parents and village warriors will beat her or even kill her.
“I’d rather die here in school than go back home,” she said. Esther* and Susan* villages shared a similar predicament.
“Our parents consider us as lesser human beings. They mistreat us by forcing us to get circumcised and get married to men of their own choice in order to get livestock paid as dowry,” Susan said.
Traditional women circumcisers are paid at least two goats or Sh3,000 per girl. A man parts with 50 goats, 30 cows and 10 camels to marry a circumcised girl.
Last year during celebrations to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at Kabarnet Museum grounds, former Baringo county commissioner Peter Okwanyo blamed the deep-rooted cultural practices of FGM, cattle rustling and early marriages in Tiaty on illiteracy and lack of awareness.
“We are aware the community is currently circumcising quite a number of girls in the bush, some have even graduated last year but no one from the grassroots has ever reported the vice,” he said.
Okwanyo said the neighbouring Ilchamus, Tugens and Marakwet pastoral communities are slowly abandoning old practices thanks to education and civilisation.
He said illiteracy cannot serve an excuse for not arresting FGM culprits and bringing them to book. “The government cannot sit back and watch as they continue breaking the law,” Okwanyo said.
He blamed illiteracy for cattle rustling, banditry and child marriage.
“If only the pastoral communities could realise the goodness of education and agree to drop their traditional cultures and get full support from the government and other stakeholders, then people could coexist peacefully,” Okwanyo said.
(* Not the girl’s real name)