Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Villagers ignore the law and go on a girl circumcision frenzy

Tom Otieno | NATION Girls are congratulated and decorated after undergoing the rites of initiation called Esaro as friends and relatives join in the celebrations.

Tom Otieno | NATION Girls are congratulated and decorated after undergoing the rites of initiation called Esaro as friends and relatives join in the celebrations.  

By DANIEL OTIENO [email protected]

The sound of gun shots pierced the air as seemingly intoxicated youth joined girls and women in wild celebration.

Tradition had triumphed over law as hundreds of girls, some as young as eight years old faced the knife in a procedure that is internationally loathed and outlawed — female genital mutilation.

The setting is Kuria East and West districts. It’s is the third year since the last rite, and so a fresh set of girls are supposed to undergo the FGM among the Bugambe and the Buiregi clans.

Tuesday was the culmination of three days of activities that saw the villagers throng footpaths in wild celebration, armed with home made guns, machetes, spears, knives, clubs and other weapons that would ordinarily have their wielders jailed.

Hundreds of schoolgirls underwent the traditional rite of passage that now allows them to get married, raising doubts as to whether they will continue with their studies in the New Year.

Among the health concerns associated with the practice are complications during childbirth, heavy bleeding after birth and prolonged hospitalisation, with the degree of complications increasing depending on the extent and severity of the mutilation that can also cause infections and death.

The killer virus, HIV, is also readily transmitted this way.

Teachers in the area said that while the practice had been part of culture, it lead to significant deterioration in the standard of education as girls dropped out of school soon afterwards.

Mr Mosese Chahacha, a teacher in a local primary school said: “The rituals the initiates go through before the material day is like parallel education.

“They learn that they are adults and that they can stand up to anybody besides starting a home. It is very difficult for the teachers to discipline such children.”

Defended practice

But Guitembe ward councillor from Kuria constituency Protrus Kohe defended the practice, arguing that the constitution protected cultural practices of communities.

“The government allowed us to circumcise the men, which we did, but then we later wondered: now that we have taken men through the initiation, must we not create a pool of women from where they can marry? That is why we have decided to undertake the practice,” argued Mr Kohe.

Early in the week, two women circumcisers were arrested by police while “cutting” five young girls. The law enforcers laid a trap near the circumcisers’ homes and nabbed them soon after they began the “surgery”.

But the locals, who are predominantly members of the Kuria community, blocked the police vehicle, demanding immediate and unconditional release of the women.

The officers were then forced to fire in the air several times to scare off the adamant protesters.

But more drama was to unfold when armed youths joined in the protests and blocked the busy Kenya-Tanzania highway for several hours.

They then engaged the police in running battles along the highway in a move that paralysed transport and blocked cargo trailers heading to or coming from the neighbouring country.

Even attempts by the Kuria West DC James Mugwe to calm them down bore no fruit.

The DC however insisted that they would not allow FGM to continue in the region, saying the practice was illegal.

FGM is practised in at least 26 of 43 African countries and prevalence varies from 98 per cent in Somalia to 5 per cent in Zaire.

In Kenya, according to the 2003 Kenyan Demographic Survey (KDHS), 32 per cent of all Kenyan women aged between 15 and 49 years are circumcised.

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