Narok County Commissioner, Mr George Natembeya, has directed schools in Narok to subject female learners in upper primary and secondary schools to undergo pregnancy and Female Genital Mutilation tests before being admitted to school in 2019.
A pregnancy test can be a physically non-intrusive urine test, but there is no way to conduct an FGM confirmation test without violating the rights of these girls, subjecting them to further abuse and creating the possibilities for sexual assault.
The said commissioner is an effective, authoritative administrator, attributes that have served him and this country well in previous occasions. His strict approach to the way chiefs handle these matters on the ground is commendable and a majority of Kenyans agree that teenage pregnancies are a menace that interrupt a child’s life and growth, thereby negatively affecting their future opportunities.
In many community settings, the perpetrators of these practices are well known and can be easily identified, without putting any further pressure on the affected children, which should be the primary focus of the current efforts. This would fulfil the government’s mandate of setting policy frameworks and ensure that communities operate within the law.
USE OF FORCE
However, the government’s monopoly of force should not be used to coerce children into such tests.
As a trained anthropologist, he should also know that culture can never be regulated in law nor controlled administratively. Cultural practices, especially rites of passage that marked social mobility from one stage of life into another are looked upon with pride and reverence. That is why FGM continues, even when it is illegal in Kenya. There is nothing like a cultural crime. It is therefore almost impossible to sell a harmful practice as crime to the ''owners'' of these culture.
Therefore, someone has to put a stop to the remote possibility that children will be subjected to an FGM test – whatever that is.
The rights of children to access education should be absolute and not prone to disruptive administrative directives. Further, the role of government in a child’s life is protection and providence. Any arm or form of government should therefore use any means – including witchdoctors and seers – to round up those already violating the rights of children.
One of the most effective agents of culture change is formal education, which is supposed to expose children to various concepts and other cultures to enable them make the decision that ''their mothers cooking is not the best''.
Schools also transmit social beliefs, often copying the dominant values, which we hope would be that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
According to the directive, the girls will be denied admission into school if and when found to have undergone FGM or to be pregnant, beating the whole purpose of subjecting them to such violation.
Another tool of culture change is aggressive and sustained grass roots advocacy programmes. These usually are met with resistance by politicians because they tend to exploit weaknesses in culture to their advantage in the effort to create false unity. It might be that the administrator in awe of political muscle in the region is taking a channel that targets the most vulnerable – children.
The irony is that leadership is also a strong agent of culture change. But such leadership does not constitute coercion, especially of the victim of an illegal cultural practice.
Opinion shapers in a society can also take a leadership role in such change, by demonstrating within known and well understood cultural parameters the disadvantages of certain practices.
It is very unfortunate that in Kenya the politician and religious leaders are of no use in playing a leading role here.
Kenyans know that the practice of FGM remains in place in Narok County and many other parts of the country. They also understand that it is often coupled with the prevalence of early marriage, which results in teenage pregnancies, both of which can also occur independent of FGM.
Kenya has a tendency of targeting public problems with private solutions, such as has happened in the education sector and is threatening to cripple the health sector as well. This is however the first time an arm of government is proposing to solve private social problems using a public approach. It does not look or sound good. You know what they say – if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck …
Meanwhile, five Kenyan girls have won the African of the Year Award 2018, for a mobile application called I-cut. The app connects girls at risk of FGM with rescue centres.
Could it be that children are better at providing solutions to their own challenges than adults?