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Grace Wambui – WNN SOAPBOX

Maasai girl Kenya

This Kenyan Maasai girl has reached the average age when she will most likely undergo, as is custom, FGM – Female Genital Mutilation. Also known as ‘Female Cutting’, FGM is an extremely traumatizing procedure that involves partial or complete removal of the female genitalia. This ancient custom is tied to many African regions as too often a girl-child is only considered by local men in the community to be ‘worthy’ of marriage after the procedure. Image: Don Macauley/Flickr

(WNN) Nairobi, KENYA, EASTERN AFRICA: FGM prevalence in Kenya is rampart in Africa, particularly in the rural Kenyan areas. Girls as young as 2-years-old have had to face the knife, but the most common ages are 7 to 10 years of age.

Lesalian is a 10-year-old girl who had to undergo the FGM, known as Female Genital Mutilation or ‘Female Cutting’, in order to be married off to a 53-year-old man. Her story starts in a little marginalized village in Kenya’s ‘Maasai land’ when a baby girl is born.

It is usual for the Maasai culture to schedule the marriage date for  a baby girl when she is born in the village. As potential suitors bring cows and goats to the newborn’s family a future suitor is chosen for the baby. From that point on as the baby girl grows up she is considered to be ‘property’ of the suitor.

As a typical Maasai girl Lelsalian has been growing up with her fate already sealed. When she turns 10-years-old she has to undergo FGM. She has no choice. This is done in order for her potential suitor to give his approval in making her his bride. This is a rite of passage that is mandatory with the Maasai. It is considered by the culture that once a girl receives female cutting she is ready for marriage.

When the Kenyan radio station I work with decided to visit Lelsalian’s home she had already faced the knife 3 days prior to our visit and was nursing her wounds in a secluded manyatta. A manyatta is a tiny mud hut that also often serves as housing for the Maasai. We were informed then that we couldn’t see her “just yet” till the seventh day has passed after the procedure, for it is  considered a taboo. According to the Maasai an FGM initiate cannot see anyone for one week in order  to avert a ‘bad luck calamity’ for the community.

On the seventh day Leisalian was finally let out of the Manyatta. Community celebrations and the smell of roast meat filled the air. This is the day set aside for Leisalian’s potential suitor to come for his bride. Glancing at the young ‘so-called wife’ you can’t help but wonder what the world has turned into. The innocent looking girl emerges from the door and is quickly whisked away by her suitor who has now brought more animals in order to clear off the dowry and take his bride home. Inquiring more from the parents as to why they would consider giving over a 10-year-old girl to a man old enough to be her grandfather, Leisalian’s father is quick to answer.

“A girl is meant to be married off and have children,” he outlined. “She also serves as a source of income for the [older] father who can’t fend for the family…poverty can only be averted by giving over the girl child,” Leisalian’s father continued.

This is just one of the many examples of the plight of the African child.

Statistics show that FGM is still currently practiced in 26 of  43 African countries. The leading country is Somalia with 98 percent of it’s women undergoing FGM at some time in their life, followed by Eritrea with 94.5 percent and Mali with 93.7 percent. Zaire follows from a distance with only 5 percent of its women facing FGM.

Complications

It is so sad that in spite of all the danger and complications of this practice, FGM continues. The death rate for young girls in countries like Sudan, where antibiotics are not common, is alarming. In Nyamira, a town in Kenya, a survey of 55 countries shows that women in over 49 regional counties encountered complications.  As sad as it is the question many people ask is: What has the government done to curb this norm that is not only brutally snatching away the innocence of the African girl child but also endangering their mere existence?

Though the Kenyan government has set up organizations that do help girls, in terms of creating awareness and educating girls that are fortunate enough to escape from the knife, some organizations like IACT –  Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices have also stepped in. Funding to provide programs to educate and discourage the practice of FGM inside communities have also been provided by national and international development agencies like PATH – Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health. Other organizations working to stop FGM inside Kenya include UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fund and WHO – The World Health Organization.

Currently all we can pray and wish for is that cases like Lelsalian’s are highlighted publicly and this norm is stopped.

But again you ask: Is this just wishful thinking? Maybe or maybe not.

At any rate I would love to be an advocate of justice for the girl child in Africa.

Will you join me?

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As a journalist living and working inside Kenya for WNN – Women News Network, Grace Wambui has also been part of the staff with GBS TV in Kenya. Wambui has also been an editor and news anchor for Kenya-based NairobiLiveRadio FM.

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