FGM Monthly Article – December 2021

December 24, 2021

Paradox of Rogue Medics Promoting Outlawed FGM in Kisii, Kenya, Done at Night, in Health Centers

The Star 12/24/21
Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya

  • Kisii is one of the counties with well-equipped and staffed healthcare facilities. But it is in these facilities where the practice is flourishing.
  • One doctor who asked to remain anonymous said what the government has succeeded in doing is outlawing the practice but not ending it. 

For many children, one’s birthday is something to look forward to.  Not for Brenda Kerubo (not her real name). 

Kerubo is turning 10 next week but she’s dreading that moment.  Her mother has arranged to take her to their rural home to undergo the female cut.  The two will travel to their village in Bobasi constituency where the ritual will be conducted in the dead of night.

Here, though outlawed, villagers have agreed to hide the fact that female genital mutilation still takes place.

Kerubo’s mother says she will invite a female nurse friend to cut her daughter. “I have done it to all my other three daughters already. I don’t see any wrong in having her face the cut as I did myself,” the mother of four told the Star.

Isolated as this case may appear, Kerubo’s family is part of a huge segment of the population in Kisii that has refused the let go of the rite. Activists say the matter is made worse by chiefs and their assistants failing to report the perpetrators to the police. “This constitutes a serious breach of the mandate the government has given them,” says Young Women Democrats chairperson Esnas Nyaramba. “Without proper coordination between these administrators and the police, such vices will not just be wished away.”

Parents who want their children to undergo the rite in health facilities, the doctor said, feel it is hygienic and safer. They also feel the hospital can quickly manage any complication.  Another part of the problem is the fact that health practitioners have replaced the old women who used to do the cut.

“There is already evidence of some nurses conducting the rite at night in healthcare centers tucked in the villages. Some of these health facilities are run by the government,” Nyaramba said. She said there’s evidence the practice is on the decline in other communities, but Kisii remains at the top of the chart.

The irony is a large percentage of the community’s population is educated, Nyaramba said.  “We’d expect that high developmental indices could suggest declining FGM prevalence but that is not the case here,” she said.

Kisii is one of the counties with well-equipped and staffed healthcare facilities. But it is in these facilities where the practice is flourishing. Some parents, keen to evade security agencies, now take their girls for the cut when schools after the first and second terms. “By doing so they avoid the prying eyes of the security agencies and activists like us who are fighting hard to end this archaic tradition,” Nyaramba said.

One doctor who asked to remain anonymous said what the government has succeeded in doing is outlawing the practice but not ending it.  “It is like fighting illicit brew. Few African governments have managed to totally eradicate it. It is the same for FGM,” he said.

The Prohibition of FGM Act was enacted in Kenya in 2011.

New FGM tactics thwart DPP’s efforts to prosecute offenders:

  • Doctors cut baby girls at birth using fingernails as well as taking young girls to get cut at clinics during school holidays so as to not be detected by the authorities.
  • Another tactic that communities have adopted to secretly circumcise girls, she said, was by crossing over to countries that do not prohibit the practice of FGM
  • Those living in urban areas take their children to private clinics within housing estates.
  • “You don’t expect an already overstretched security machinery to go house to house to check who has been circumcised or not. Nonetheless it is a minor surgery that does not take long to heal,” the doctor said
  • Some parents are now opting to take their children for the cut at a younger age. 

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) uses alternative ways to prosecute FGM perpetrators due to lack of sufficient evidence.

“Nowadays younger girls around the age of four to six are being cut to avoid attracting too much attention,” Nyaramba said.

The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 120 to 140 million women have been subjected to this harmful and dangerous practice, and 3 million girls continue to be at risk each year.

Laban Karani, Caroline Murgor, Hannah Okwengu, Tabitha Ouya, Renee Ngamau, Bernadette Loloju, Caroline Ncharo and Christine Kungu during a panel discussion spearheaded by FIDA and UNFPA on access to justice in gender based violence at a high level national consultative meeting attended by women leaders on November 3, 2021/ CHARLENE MALWA

It has found that the practice seemingly continues because it is sustained by social perceptions, the belief that a girl who does not undergo cutting will bring shame to the family leading to the family’s exclusion from the community

Nyaramba says the government should look into amending the laws to allow survivors of the practice to seek legal redress when they become of age or become aware of their rights.

“The emerging new trends call for the need to have more surveillance, especially on private health facilities and identify those that might be conducting FGM,” the activist said.

She also called for stricter guidelines on the use of publicly supplied medical kits such as local anaesthesia.

“Strong sanctions should be instituted for health personnel found to be facilitating the cutting of girls so as to discourage FGM perpetuation,” she said.

Nyaramba said in Kuria FGM was still being done in the open with little action by the security agencies.

“It is harrowing witnessing such a vice being orchestrated with such abandon. We have laws to be enforced and the police should see to it that anybody found conducting it is arrested and prosecuted,” she said.

In Kisii, county police chief Francis Kooli said he has already instructed his teams across the subcounties to be on the lookout and act accordingly.

“They are already aware of what they should do to end this madness,” he said.

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