Hundreds of girls have fled their homes in Tiaty Sub-County ahead of the December holidays for fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).
Despite schools being closed for the December holidays, meaning rest and relaxation away from the rigours of a long school term for learners, many girls in the region have nothing to smile about with more than 300 of them said to be contemplating running away from home to avoid the cut.
Cana Girls Rescue Home in Nginyang’, which has been the refuge for the girls fleeing the outdated cultural practices, is now overwhelmed with the high number of girls seeking accommodation to avoid being subjected to the circumciser’s knife.
According to Rev Christopher Chochoi of Anglican Churches of Kenya, who is in charge of the home, parents in the area view their daughters as a source of wealth once they are married off, with a typical dowry settlement amounting to more than 12 cows — a small fortune for impoverished locals.
For a young girl to get married, however, she must first undergo circumcision in order to be considered a mature woman.
He said that that the practice was rampant in December and August holidays in areas such as Kositei, Kollowa, Riong’o, Churo, Tangulbei, Paka Hills and Natan.
A recent survey carried out by the Women Rights Institute for Peace, a Non-Governmental Organisation based in the North Rift, showed that the practice is prevalent among the Pokot community in Nginyang’ division and some parts of Baringo South.
The WRIP survey accuses rogue elements in the police service of handing out permits for FGM ceremonies despite a total government ban on the practice, and recommends investigation and prosecution of the culprits.
Sources told the Nation that more than 400 girls are set to face the knife this December. In one single location, there are 144 girls earmarked for the cut.
Rev Chochoi said that he was forced to start the rescue home after praying with a 16-year-old girl who had taken rat poison rather than return to the violent and abusive elderly man she had been forced to marry. The centre is the only girls’ rescue home in the region.
“I prayed with the girl but she later died. It was so painful seeing a young soul die due to retrogressive cultural practices; and an idea to start a rescue centre came in to my mind,” Rev Chochoi, 60, added.
“I started with one girl who had fled forced marriage in Churo, more than 100 kilometres away. The juvenile had walked from her home to Nginyang’ and by then I had no structure to house her. I left one of my grass-thatched house for her to live in and five others joined later. The number has been increasing ever since,” he added.
It also emerged that the practice is contributing to high illiteracy rates among women in the area, with more than 90 percent of them not completing school.
Baringo County Commissioner Henry Wafula warned that parents who subject their children to any form inhuman acts like FGM will be arrested and prosecuted.
“We are on high alert and we will not tolerate any archaic cultural practices that would amount to violation of children rights. Our children should not fear staying at home as it is our duty to protect them,” the administrator said.