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Fresh hope for girls rescued from culture
2009-05-04 20:04:39
By Rosemary Mirondo, recently in Nairobi

The AIC Girls Primary School in Kajiado in Kenya`s Rift Valley Province erves as a rescue centre for girls who are in danger of being forced to undergo FGM and early marriage.

Out of the 706 girls in the school 217 girls were rescued from FGM, early marriages, poverty and sexual abuse.

More schools like this will be needed if the campaign against this painful and exploitative culture is to be stamped out for good:

The future looks bright for 14-year-old Nice Mlejo. Seven years ago, her aunt rescued her from undergoing FGM and a forced marriage.

Now a standard seven pupil at the AIC Girls Primary School in Kajiado in Kenya`s Rift Valley Province, Nice, the ninth-born in a family of 10 wishes to become a doctor when she grows up. Her dream is to help girls facing the problem she herself escaped.

Female Genital Mutilation.
Nice`s father had wanted her to undergo circumcision so he could marry her off to a man old enough to be her father in exchange for a number of cows.

Nice who is a Maasai by tribe says their culture recognises one as being a woman when she has undergone FGM even if it is at the tender age of six.

So when Nice`s aunt learnt about her father`s plan to marry her off, she helped her escape to the Kajiado school which also serves as a rescue centre for girls who are in danger of being forced to undergo FGM and early marriage.

Her parents visited her at the school three years ago, five years after she fled home, and promised they would not take her for FGM anymore. They have since reconciled and Nice has visited them only once.

I met Nice at the school last month. Although the school was closed for holidays, Nice and other rescued girls remained behind.

Having been away from home for that long, Nice is not sure she may recognise her two elder sisters who were forced out of school to get married.

They left home when she was a little girl and has not seen them since then as they live in another region.

It is the fact that she was separated from her sisters at a time when they needed to be close to each other and their being denied of their right to education that gives Nice the zeal to fight for girls in her sisters` situation.

Esther Lamunyak, 16, has been at the AIC girls school for three years now. Also a Maasai girl who has been rescued from undergoing FGM, Esther who is now in standard eight hopes to become an air hostess when she finishes school.

In her case, it`s her pastor father who saved her from her mother`s plan to have her mutilated.

Her mother had conspired with her grandmother to perform the act on her secretly.

Esther`s mother had persuaded Esther to undergo FGM having succumbed to pressure from her mother in-law to have her daughter circumcised.

Unhappy with her mother`s decision, Esther approached her father and told him her fears.

He immediately took her to the rescue centre since being a frequent traveller, he did not want her daughter to be circumcised while he was away. Also, the act is against his religious beliefs.

Happy that her father did not side with her grandmother, Esther, who sees a promising future a head says she does not want to let her father down.

She will do whatever it takes to make him never regret his efforts of saving her from FGM by doing well in her studies.

And above all, to achieve her dream of becoming an air hostess.

While Esther and Nice went directly to the AIC school after they escaped the Ngariba`s (woman who performs FGM) knife, the journey was longer for Grace Cheyech, 14, from the Pokot tribe.

Also from the Rift Valley Province, Grace ran away from home on the very day that she was to undergo the rite.

She was eleven years old and unwilling to follow what her tradition considered the passage into adulthood, Grace fled to her teachers at Kabate Vetlad Primary school in Pokot and narrated her ordeal to them.

The teachers introduced her to an American lady who took her to Nairobi with whom she stayed for one year schooling.

The American lady was to later leave the country and therefore left Grace in the care of a friend from who unfortunately mistreated her.

It`s a neighbour who upon seeing what Grace was going through decided to take her to the AIC rescue centre.

She is now in standard seven and hopes to become a banker.
According to AIC Girls Primary School Head Teacher, Nicolaus Muniu the rescued girls at his school have not been back to their homes for fear of meeting what they ran away from.

Muniu says the school was established in 1959 as an ordinary school but was in 2000 assigned another role of being a rescue centre for girls running away from FGM and forced marriage.

These practices were rampant in the surrounding community therefore denying girls a chance of ever seeing the inside of a classroom.

Out of the 706 girls in the school 217 girls were rescued from FGM, early marriages, poverty and sexual abuse.

Muniu says because theirs is a boarding school, girls who fear going back home during the holidays for fear of being forced into what they ran away from normally stay at school. During the holidays, these girls engage in extra curricular activities like debate, sewing and doing other house chores.

He also says that girls who escaped from FGM are scared of going back home because they would also be shunned by the community for having avoided the ritual.

While the school caters for them, it also tries to hold meetings with their families to solve the matter.

The girls are at the AIC Girls School thanks to WCA which also funds the education for those who pass to go to high school. It is currently paying school fees for 40 girls in high School.

FGM is practiced in 28 countries in Africa including Tanzania and in a few countries in Asia and the Middle East.

In Tanzania the practice continues secretly upcountry because it is against the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act of 1998.

According to the Tanzania Media Women`s Association (Tamwa)`s executive director Ananilea Nkya, girls who are able to escape the practice later face it during labour when their mother in-laws bribe medical personnel to perform the surgery.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is putting on pressure to end FGM done secretly by health professionals.

A 2004/2005 Research by the United States Agency International Development (USAID) shows that in Tanzania 89 percent of FGM is traditionally performed and two percent medically performed.

According to Tamwa`s Nkya, more effort is needed to rescue girls especially in the rural areas.

The USAID study shows that prevalence by age is 14.6 per cent in the ages 15 -49, 9.1 per cent in those aged between 15 and 19 years and 16 per cent in the 35-39 years category.

In urban areas FGM is performed by 7.2 percent while it is 17.6 percent in rural areas. It is performed by 0.8 percent and highest region is 57.6 percent.

Dr Guyo Jadesa, a consulting obstetrician and gynecologist in Nairobi says FGM could be linked to increased complications in childbirth and even maternal deaths.

He said the deaths attributable to FGM ranged from 11 to 17 per 1000 deliveries while in relation to background prenatal mortality rates of 40-60 per 1000 deliveries in the world.

He said immediate physical complication included hemorrhage, failure to heal as a result of wound sepsis and injury of adjacent tissue of urethra or even death.

He said there was also a risk of HIV infection due to the use of one instrument in multiple operations.

An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women have undergone the practice and at least three million girls worldwide are at risk of being subjected to the practice each year.

FGM/C comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non medical reasons.

A Somali woman in her 30s from Kenya, Maryam Abdi who underwent FGM as a six-year-old shared her experience at an FGM workshop for journalists in Nairobi last month.

The workshop which was organized by the Population Reference bureau it brought together journalists from eight countries in Africa.

Maryam said although two decades have passed since the ritual was performed on her, the pain is still so vivid to this.

She said that FGM was performed on her together with other girls when she was six years old and she cried and wailed until she could cry no more.

She wriggled as the woman sat on her chest and suddenly everything turned dark. When she woke up the women laughed at her cowardice.

The women put hot sand on her genitals when blood gushed out and foamed and scavenger birds moved in circles and perched on nearby trees while the women shooed them away.

A hole was dug and dried donkey waste, herbs of different varieties and hot charcoal were put in the hole.

The girl`s legs were tied up to the thighs just below her behind after which she was placed over the hole so that smoke could hit the wound to ease the bleeding.

Blood continued dripping on the charcoal and eased Maryam`s pain a bit although she felt weak and nauseated.

A herb called malmal was pasted where her severed vaginal lips had been and then she was tied from thighs to toes with very strong ropes made from camel hide and she and the other girls were showed how to walk without bending or moving their legs apart so that the cut area could heal.

Maryam says there was no washing for a month and they fed on food without oil, vegetables or meat but only milk and ugali and some water.

This was done purposely so they could not get hard stool that would make them end up tearing the wound.

Because they did not bathe lice developed between the ropes and their skin itched the whole day and night.

The ngariba would be called when it was assumed they had healed or else they would undergo the same excruciating process all over again.

If they would have healed, the girls would be shaved and washed after which they would be told to remain untouched until the day the got married.

Studies show that the Somali community cites FGM as an Islamic requirement and that it enforces the cultural value of sexual purity in females by controlling female sexual desires, thereby ensuring virginity before marriage and fidelity throughout a woman`s life.

Together with educational campaigns against FGM and forced marriages, more rescue centres like the AIC Girls school are needed to save girls like Nice who would otherwise be subjected to pain and exploitation that Maryam and many others undergo.

  • SOURCE: Guardian
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