Amidst the widespread poverty, lack of opportunities and constant threat of abuse, there is one scourge that terrifies the young girls of Kenya the most. The threat of female genital mutilation (FGM.)
A common ritual among rural tribal families, the practice peaks during Christmas and holiday seasons. All the more reason for schools to remain open during the holiday. The fear of FGM forces hundreds of school girls refuse to go home and hide in their classrooms.
Despite being banned in 2011 by the Kenyan government, women and more precisely young girls are still subject of this atrocious ritual. Some communities like the Maasai consider it an important part of their culture and women who do not undergo it lack respect later. Several local churches still push worshipers towards this horrendous practice.
The vice is rampant in the country, as high as 90 per cent in several counties. This horrifying practice leads to higher rates of girls dropping out of school, affecting education and employment in the county. Girls are forced to undergo this procedure so that parents get dowry.
FGM supporters believe that the practice reduces infidelity and prevents HIV and Aids. There is also a worrying trend of younger and younger girls being forced to undergo the procedure. A quarter of those surveyed in a recent report were as young as 5 years old.
On the other hand, the number of girls enrolling in both primary and secondary schools has increased sharply since the ban on FGM. Some counties have turned all girls' schools in their division into rescue centres. With help, most of them can study and excel in life.
But poverty remains a roadblock. A lot of poor families cannot afford to send children to school. These young girls are the most prone to FGM, early marriage, teen pregnancy and no hope of redemption from a life of servitude.
Activists regularly call on families to shun this abhorrent traditional practice that ends up affecting the lives of their children. Sensitisation events are regularly held in rural locales. Girls, boys and even parents come in solidarity with those under threat of FGM.
With heightened awareness, girls learn how to protect themselves and know whom to approach when threatened. Due to the intensification of such campaigns, the practice of FGM has not stopped, but merely been driven underground.
Girls can with the support of local communities, organisation and schools stand up for themselves. This is where international agencies including the WLUF are contributing in a big way. By helping the threatened girl children of Kenya with the necessary assistance, a lot of lives can be bettered.