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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Agony for Girls as Culture of Silence Fuels Outdated 'Cut'

November 3, 2010
Daily Nation
Mark Agutu

A conspiracy of silence and traditional beliefs continue to fuel the circumcision of girls - some of them nursery school children - in Tana River County.
Here, uncircumcised girls are perceived as children, and therefore unmarriageable.
This has propelled womenfolk to the fore in ensuring their daughters undergo the rite, despite the practice being outlawed.
And the younger the initiate, the better, so goes the thinking that has seen nursery school pupils rounded up routinely during school holidays and taken to their grandmothers who preside over the ritual of “turning them into women.”
The Nation traced seven such girls to one village in the Bura Irrigation Scheme, Tana North District. They were in a larger group of girls subjected to the cut during the August school holidays.
Efforts to keep the whole thing under wraps backfired after police officers got wind of the plans and stormed their homes.
But the officers arrived too late, after the girls had been circumcised and confined in a smoky hut to heal, as the elderly women celebrated their passage into “adulthood.”
The women were arrested, while the girls, still bleeding and groaning were taken to Hola District Hospital for observation. The women were arraigned in court and charged with subjecting children to female circumcision.
Eight of them pleaded guilty to and were sentenced to serve varying durations of community service.
Two of them denied the charges and are awaiting the determination of their case.
This was just one instance that got to the ears of the authorities. In this remote, dusty region, scores of girls are circumcised routinely.
The ritual involves cutting parts of the girl’s genitalia with a sharp blade or knife.
Traditionalists believe that circumcision makes a girl’s genitals less “sensitive” and thereby making her less prone to sexual indulgences.
Time to heal
Of the seven girls, the Nation traced, two were in nursery school while the rest were below class six.
To hide the matter from the authorities, the villagers choose April, August and December school holidays for the activity and give the girls ample time to heal before they resume learning.
“When they do it during the holidays, it is difficult for teachers to know. They ensure the children have already healed by the time they return to school,” said Furaha Primary School headteacher Margaret Githire. Some of the girls learn in Mrs Githire’s school.
According to Ms Hadija Maro, the mother of one of the seven girls, all she and other women wanted was for their girls to be accepted in the society.
Ms Maro says that a grandmother who oversees the circumcision of her granddaughter(s) is guaranteed higher social recognition.
Girls who have undergone the rite taunt their uncircumcised colleagues, fuelling stigmatisation.
And men who marry uncircumcised girls are the laughing stock in the society.
“When a man marries an uncircumcised woman, his peers taunt him. The woman is also ridiculed,” says another villager, Mrs Asha Abdullahi. The 27-year-old is a mother of five.
But these are the attitudes that anti-female circumcision campaigners want to stamp out to rescue the girls from the cultural indulgence.
Ms Sadia Hussein, 21, the face of the anti-female circumcision (at times referred to as female genital mutilation) campaign in the three districts of Tana, says time has come for the society to reject the human right abuse.
The married mother of one is herself circumcised.
“I resolved after going through it all that I will never allow my daughter to experience it,” she told the Nation in Hola Town.
She was circumcised at the age of seven and the episode is as fresh in her mind as if it happened yesterday.
It was painful and agonising. “My father did not want me to go but my mother and grandmother persisted until he relented.”
Together, with five other girls, they took her to a forest early in the morning.
Pinned her down
As one woman placed her palm on her mouth to prevent her from screaming, others spread her legs and pinned her down, allowing the circumciser to carry out her work unhindered.
From her recollection, the ceremony took half an hour but it appeared to her like many hours. Waves of agony swept over her as the sharp razor blade dug into her flesh.
It took her two months to heal.
She was given herbal concoctions to hasten the healing process and prevent infection.