A landmark court ruling has sent shock waves through communities that practise female circumcision.
In an unprecedented judgment, a Narok court last month convicted and sentenced a man and a woman to 10 years each in jail after a 12-year-old girl bled to death in an attempted circumcision at Naroosura area of Narok South District.
Sasiano Nchoe, who was being initiated into womanhood, died on August 18, 2008, after bleeding for five hours. Her body was buried immediately in a shallow grave.
Her body was exhumed and examined after the intervention of officials from Tasaru Girls’ Rescue Centre who alerted the authorities.
The court charged traditional surgeon Nalang’u Ene Sekut and Sasiano’s father Kantet ole Nchoe with manslaughter under Section 14 of the Children’s Act of 2001 which states that “no person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites”.
“What pained me most was that Sasiano’s father told me nonchalantly that if a woman died, it was not a big deal,” said Agnes Pareiyo, director of the rescue centre who is also the head of the V-Day Movement in Kenya.
She said the traditional surgeon, who was Nchoe’s mistress, was an amateur and was learning the ropes on the victim.
“It was then that I swore to struggle to bring the culprits to book,” Mrs Pareiyo said, adding that she had not known that that would be the beginning of a long and difficult road to finding justice.
She said Sasiano’s case was a strong message that female genital mutilation kills and that people can be jailed for it.
However, some cultural conservatives have condemned the ruling and vowed to press on with the practice, claiming it is important in preparing girls for marriage and making them responsible members of society.
“How can you jail a responsible man who was preparing his daughter for marriage? It was only unfortunate that the girl died. It was not the intention of the two to kill Sasiano,” said Mzee Saning’o ole Gilisho, 70, at his Parkitabu home on the edge of the Maasai Mara game reserve.
He added that under the traditional justice system, the circumciser would have been made to pay one cow as a fine “since the killing was clearly inadvertent”.
An anthropologist from the community, who requested not to be named for fear of being seen as insensitive to the plight of girls, said the sentence was grossly unfair as it did not consider the cultural environment in which the act was performed.
“I blame the system which criminalises female circumcision. Had it been legalised, the girl would have been given proper medical attention, and she need not have died,” he said, praising the practice for having served the purpose of regulating the number of marriageable girls.
But Henry ole Kulet, the community’s foremost writer whose novel Blossoms of the Savannah won the 2009 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature for its handling of female circumcision, disagrees.
He said that while the practice served its purpose in the past, culture was dynamic and people should change with it.
John Wainaina, Narok Deputy Children’s Officer, said the ruling had sent shockwaves through the region, which had also made those hell-bent on practising female circumcision (known as female genital mutilation by its critics), devise new ways of evading the law to perpetuate the practice, which he said was now being performed in Kenyan hospitals.
Mrs Pareiyo launched her anti-female circumcision campaign in Narok District in 1999 when she was a top official in Maendeleo ya Wanawake. She has been at loggerheads with many local leaders who believe circumcision makes women good wives in the same way it turns boys into responsible men for the community.