Embu leaders lock horns as FGM remains an obstacle to girls’ education

Lower primary school female pupils in a school in Embu County listen to their head teachers during a parade. Children as young as eight years old are being forced to undergo the FGM, a situation that is seeing them abandon school for force and arranged early marriages. [Photo: Robert Nyagah]
Lower primary school female pupils in a school in Embu County listen to their head teachers during a parade. Children as young as eight years old are being forced to undergo the FGM, a situation that is seeing them abandon school for force and arranged early marriages. [Photo: Robert Nyagah]

There is no issue that is more emotive and divisive as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Embu County today.

Cultural, religious and political stakeholders are widely divided on the issue of FGM with some coming up with sometimes controversial and shocking suggestions in support or against the vice.

Elders, who are turning out to be key anti-FGM campaigners, want the county government to create tough laws and establish a special legally-protected squad to battle the vice.

While the laws against FGM are clear, not many cases involving perpetrators end up in court despite a law having been enacted in 2011 to prohibit the vice. If the law was implemented to the letter, perpetrators of the vice would be punished and this would act as a deterrent to others who may seek to procure or perform the cut.

The Prohibition of FGM Act 2011  notes in Article 20 that speaks to aiding and abetting female genital mutilation  that: “A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures — (a) a person to commit an offence under section 19; or (b) another person to perform female genital mutilation on that other person, commits an offence.”

It goes on in Article 21 in relation to procuring a person to perform female genital mutilation in another country that: “A person commits an offence if the person takes another person from Kenya to another country, or arranges for another person to be brought into Kenya from another country, with the intention of having that other person subjected to female genital mutilation.”

Unfortunately in Embu County, most cases of FGM are handled in Embu town which is the county headquarters. It’s where non-governmental organizations and media are concentrated yet it is the rural areas which are over burdened by the injustice committed against innocent girls.

One of the most notable local musicians and also an elected Member of the Embu County Assembly has in the past faced off in a confrontation with female MCAs all who are strongly opposed to FGM for producing songs that support the cut.

Recently, the Kyeni South Ward Representative, Salesio Kimaru, caused a stir in the Embu County Assembly (words which he was later forced to withdraw) when he suggested that all young women in the county should be circumcised to control what he termed as growing cases of sexual immorality and incest.

However, as is the practice all over the world, many girls who have undergone genital mutilation see themselves as adults. This leads top majority dropping out of school or being forcefully married off at a time when their bodies have not fully developed to hold pregnancies.

Culturally, the Embu community in the past performed FGM on their daughters to control their urge for sex and as a promotion to adulthood and readiness for marriage.

The MCA had claimed that incest and sexual related immorality cases could only be stopped through forceful FGM. However, while the leader could have seen that his reasons were valid, he failed to note that FGM is a barrier to women and girls realising their full potential. Female Genital Mutilation has been noted to be an obstacle to education which would on the other hand enable girls enjoy individual rights and full participation in society.

Lack of education, eventually, hinders girls from making potentially positive change in their families.

During forums organised to create laws on protecting the culture of Embu people, Kimaru said the surgical removal of the clitoris remained the only way “to impose sexual control and stop young girls from making sexual advances on older men”.

Insisting that FGM was a cultural rite, Kimaru said that unless it was revived in future, immorality would grow with men sleeping with their daughters and boys sleeping with their mothers all due to erosion of what he termed as important cultures including circumcision of girls.

However, religious leaders rejected this and   vowed to that the faithful who allowed FGM would be excommunicated.

While attending a forum to discuss means of taming cases of widespread practice in FGM sometimes involving faithful, the clergy under the Embu Bishops and Pastors Association agreed that any faithful who allowed or forced their daughters to undergo the genital surgery would be excommunicate.

The organisation’s secretary, Reverend John Gachugi, said: “Rising cases of FGM in the county are unacceptable and should be fought from all fronts using all the laws including the penal code and the Constitution.”

Gachugi noted that Embu County had the negative reputation of being ranked as the fourth county leading in FGM prevalence countrywide.

“FGM hurts the affected girls’ health when they eventually become pregnant and when they suffer complications during child bearing. The outlawed practice apart from encouraging pre-marital sex also causes unwanted pregnancies and early marriages,” said Gachugi, adding this had great implications on girls’ education.

When the girls are circumcised at the tender age of eight years as is the practice in Embu, they are presumed to be mature and ready for sex and marriage and eventually that exposes them to sexual transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

The cleric noted that due to cases of FGM being practiced secretly, the numbers of girls dropping out of school had increased with some feeling uncomfortable with their classmates who treat them with contempt for succumbing to the harmful practice.

Some of the girls also abandoned school after undergoing FGM carried out secretly in villages through the collusion of parents, guardians and grandparents among other relatives.

The clergy in Embu County have agreed to campaign against the practice in and outside the churches at prayer services, burial ceremonies, weddings, open air crusades, fellowships and baptisms forums.

On the other hand, Action Aid, an international NGO has been visible in the anti-FGM campaigns in Embu County by mobilising various sectors to understand the physical and psychological dangers of the outlawed practice.

According to Caroline Njue Programme Manager at Action Aid, her teams were working with elders, politicians and with the clergy to intensify the anti-FGM campaign in the county.

However, Njeru Mairani, coordinator Mbeere Council of Elders (Ngome) says that despite wide reaching anti-FGM campaigns, the practice went on sometimes unabated.

“Some people have devised new ways of evading anti-FGM activists and today they actually call trained medics to perform the surgery at night under the guise of handling emergencies at family level,” says Mairani.

He called for the formation of a strong anti-FGM team bringing together all stakeholders under the Embu County Government Ministry of Gender, Culture, Children and Social Affairs where more financial resources should be allocated to help in the war against this social evil.

“We are noticing an increase in the number of medical professionals, who secretly perform FGM on girls as young as eight years old with this group gradually replacing traditional circumcisers who have surely been forced out of business by aggressive anti-FGM campaigns,” Mairani said.

One of the most visible anti-FGM campaigners who is the only elected female Member of the County Assembly (MCA), Peninah Mutua who represents Makima Ward in Mbeere North, says it is unacceptable to force girls as young as eight years to undergo the female cut.

According to Mutua, elders who allow marriage and dowry exchange between families for underage girls’ should also be reined in and arrested as being accomplices to the crime.

“It is sad that some circumcised girls are now being treated as outcasts in modern society while others are openly being laughed at and ridiculed for undergoing FGM”, said Mutua.

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