Despite sustained efforts to eradicate female circumcision among the Ameru, the vice remains rooted in parts of Meru and Tharaka-Nithi counties.
In the last one month, at least 10 girls aged between 12 and 17 years from Tharaka South and Igambang’ombe sub-counties have been rescued by police after undergoing circumcision.
In some instances, newly married women are forced by their mothers-in-law to undergo the cut “so as to fit in the community”.
In Meru, a 14-year-old girl from Kathelwa in Igembe Central died of excessive bleeding after circumcision on Sunday.
On Monday, a 20-year-old woman was rushed to hospital after being circumcised in Amwathi, Igembe North. The circumciser is in police custody.
According to Mr Kithela Kubai, an anti-FGM crusader in Igembe Central, about 12 girls are believed to have undergone the cut this month.
“We have submitted a list of seven families believed to have cut their girls to the authorities,” Mr Kubai said.
In Tharaka-Nithi, two women from Uturini in Tharaka South were jailed for seven years each by a Marimanti court while a woman from Kamwimbi was sentenced to six years by a Chuka court for forcing her girls to undergo the cut.
Four girls rescued in Tharaka are receiving treatment and counselling at a Plan International’s children protection unit at Marimanti Police Station while two from Igambang’ombe are at Tumaini Children’s Home in Chuka.
While some of these cases have come to the limelight, many are secretly circumcised and hidden without trace despite increased surveillance by members of Nyumba Kumi.
Igembe Central Deputy County Commissioner Josiah Odongo said they have received several reports from the public with one turning out to be false while eight women were found to have been circumcised last year.
“A case where a woman was mutilated in August became complicated after the victim admitted to have done it willingly. We are calling for increased vigilance among residents because FGM is highly secretive. A medical check-up on eight suspected to have undergone FGM this month indicated it was done a year ago,” he said.
Mr Odongo noted that the girl who died had travelled to her relatives in Igembe North where she underwent the cut before returning home.
Plan International’s anti-FGM programme coordinator in Tharaka Faith Mpara notes that the vice is practiced with high secrecy, enabling the perpetrators to evade detection.
“Those who are circumcised at home remain indoors all the time and in case the parents learn that administrators may have a clue, the girls are asked to painfully sit down outside and are given a basketful of millet which they pretend to be sorting the entire day,” said Ms Mpara.
Circumcisers have also mastered the art of disguise and camouflage while in their business.
Despite a sustained campaign that includes alternative rites of passage in Igembe and Tharaka, illiteracy is blamed for the unending outdated practice.
Plan International’s programme implementation manager Charles Muriu cites deeply rooted traditional beliefs as a major impendent in fight against female circumcision.
The perception in some areas that uncircumcised girls are immoral and that they cannot be good wives has been fuelling the spread of the practice.
“Some newly married women especially from communities that do not practice FGM are forced to undergo the cut by the mothers-in-law and other women in the village before they are accepted,” said Mr Muriu.
In some areas, uncircumcised women are barred from taking part in communal activities, forcing some to bow to pressure due to stigma.
But Mr Kubai cites corruption among chiefs in Igembe as one of the causes of rampant cases of FGM (female genital mutilation).
“When some chiefs learn that someone’s daughter has undergone FGM, they go there to collect bribes rather than arrest the suspects. In some cases, some chiefs have advised suspects on how to hide the girls. There are chiefs whose daughters have also been cut,” he lamented.
However, sustained campaigns in Tharaka have seen several FGM practitioners abandon the vice.
Plan International is supporting 18 reformed circumcisers, aged between 60 and 80, in adopting alternative sources of income.
They are now learning how to make bracelets and sandals from old car tires and baskets for sale at Marimanti Methodist Guest House.
Ms Fides Gachue from Kajuki village in Igambang’ombe who practised FGM for more than 20 years said she used to earn at least Sh20,000 and about 20 goats per week.
“I have known the disadvantages of FGM and though I used to make a lot of money, I will never go back to doing it. I used to charge Sh2,000 for every girl and after the practice was outlawed, the fee went up to Sh3,000 because of the risks involved. But I decided to quit,” said Ms Gachue.
The reformed circumcisers now plan to help spread the anti-FGM campaign across in the region.
The NGO is also working with 42 Njuri Ncheke elders, 40 girls and 40 boys from every location in Tharaka and Igambang’ombe to fight the vice.
The war on FGM in Meru and Tharaka-Nithi dates back to late 1950s when the colonial government and Njuri Ncheke outlawed the practice.
But the ban faced resistance in the 1960s when some girls vowed to circumcise themselves, leading to the naming of the rebellious age group as “Ngaitaana” (I will circumcise myself).
Since early 2000, the Methodist and Catholic churches have been conducting alternative rites of passage for teenage girls in a bid to end FGM.
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014 indicated that 31 percent of women in Meru aged between 15 and 49 had undergone FGM.