Law against the female ‘cut’ most welcome

Friday September 9 2011

A historic law passed by Parliament last week was unfortunately overshadowed by other happenings.

Female circumcision is now illegal in Kenya. That might come as a surprise to many who have assumed that the retrograde practice has always been against the law.

From the colonial era to the present day, the government has tried to stamp out female circumcision through administrative actions that did not actually have full backing in law.

Often different laws, against assault or abuse of minor, for instance, have been employed; rather than specific legislation outlawing the practice.

That is why the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill, that now awaits presidential assent, is a landmark worth celebrating.

Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi deserves plaudits for sponsoring the Private Members’ Bill that makes it illegal to practise female circumcision, procure the services of a circumcisor, or send somebody out of  the country to undergo the illegal ‘cut’.

Offenders will serve up to three years in prison and fines of up to Sh200,000.

The new law was rightly hailed by women MPs as marking, at last, emancipation for the Kenyan woman and girl nearly a half century after the proclamation of Independence.

It is one thing to make laws, however, and another top enforce them.

Deeply-ingrained cultural practices, however outdated and retrogressive, can often defy the best efforts to eradicate them. 

The oppressive colonial regime could not root out female circumcision in some parts of the country, and neither after independence could the practice be wiped out through the coercive Chief’s Act.

The mixture of carrot-and-stick employed by the churches and the education system from the colonial days to the present also did not succeed in stamping out the practice.

The new law will add legal backing to the fight against female circumcision, but victory will only be achieved when the communities that practise the ‘cut’ are persuaded to voluntarily abandon it.