Kenya: Protect girls by enforcing FGM and child marriage laws

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Date: 
10 Oct 2013

UPDATE 30 JANUARY 2014: Between November and December 2013, Equality Now supported our Kenyan partner Women Rights Institute for Peace in providing shelter to 45 runaway girls at the Sandai rescue centre in Baringo. Happily, the girls are safe and have returned back to school. However, until protective measures are put in place, particularly during FGM mass mutilation seasons, girls in at-risk communities will remain in danger.

In response to advocacy, the Kenyan government took a positive step forward by creating an Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Board and appointing the Honourable Linah Jebii Kilimo as Chairperson in December 2013. Hon. Kilimo was instrumental in passing Kenya’s Anti-FGM Bill in 2011 and has been actively working with governmental and non-governmental organizations to eradicate FGM. Equality Now and our partners welcome these developments and urge the government to work closely with the Anti-FGM Board to fulfill its mandate as described in the Prohibition of FGM Act of 2011 (Section 5).

Please continue to call on  Kenyan national and local governments, authorities and the Anti-FGM Board to work together to protect girls by: enforcing laws against FGM and child marriage, educating the public on the harms of these human rights violations, and supporting girls escaping FGM and child marriage.

Thank you for your support.


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Equality Now has been monitoring multiple cases of Kenyan girls running away from their homes or avoiding going home from school during holidays to escape female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, particularly during the August and December school holidays when mass mutilations are performed. The Pokot region, especially, has had a high number of reports of girls running away from home or refusing to return home from school. Despite the existence of Kenyan laws against FGM and child marriage, it is clear that they are not being implemented in the region to protect girls.

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

  • Elizabeth from Churo village was barred from attending school by her parents who planned to subject her to FGM and marry her off. She found refuge with her aunt for a while and was attending school, but was forced to run away when her father tried to remove her from her aunt’s home at age 16. She walked for three days before arriving at a rescue center for girls. Her father came to the center and tried to force her back home, but when the center’s management threatened him with police action, he left and did not return.
  • Alsine from Tangulbei village was pulled out of school by her parents at age 14 and subjected to FGM to ‘prepare her for marriage’. She ran away to her older sister’s home, but her father forcibly removed her from her sister’s home and began marriage preparations. She managed to escape once more, and after spending two nights sleeping outdoors, was directed to a rescue center for girls where she is once again attending school.

Cana Rescue Center, which aided both Alsine and Elizabeth, is one of the few rescue centers in the region. Unfortunately it has neither the capacity or resources to house and educate all the girls who are seeking refuge, nor the ability to indefinitely shelter these girls. NGO rescue centers, while providing an essential service, are not a permanent solution as girls need to grow up within their families and communities. Although Kenya has laws banning FGM and child marriage, Equality Now partner, Women Rights Institute for Peace (WRIP), has informed us that government officials in the Pokot region where Alsine and Elizabeth are from, have done little to prevent violations or protect and support girls when they seek refuge.

In the Pokot region, over 50% of girls between the ages of 10 and 21 years have been subjected to FGM;  local officials indicate that over 80% of girls either do not join school or drop out prematurely after undergoing FGM, as girls are often married off immediately following the procedure. The Pokot government needs to work within communities to protect and support girls and enforce laws to make sure violations are adequately addressed. Equality Now partner Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative (TNI), based in Narok, Kenya, which also has a high prevalence rate of FGM and child marriage, has developed a model that incorporates local government and law enforcement officials and chiefs from practicing villages, to strengthen support systems and facilitate enforcement of laws. Implementation of similar interventions by national and regional governments would help to protect and support girls and ensure safe and healthy childhoods.

In Kenya, prevalence rates for FGM and child marriage are approximately 27% and 26%, respectively, but there are significant regional variations with rates as high as 98% in certain regions. FGM is generally performed on girls aged between 12 and 18, but recent studies have shown that girls are being cut as young as age seven. FGM can have detrimental lifelong health consequences including chronic infections, severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, infertility, and psychological trauma.

FGM and child marriage are human rights violations and have a host of negative physical and psychological implications on girls and women. Kenya, as a party to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, requires State parties to prohibit both FGM and child marriage and to ensure “protection of women who are at risk of being subjected to harmful practices.” Kenya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and both the Committees associated with these treaties have called for an end to FGM and child marriage. In Kenya’s national legal framework, FGM is prohibited under the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 and both FGM and child marriage are prohibited under the Children’s Act 2001. In addition, Kenya’s Constitution contains provisions against both FGM and child marriage.

In its 2011 consideration of Kenya’s report, the CEDAW Committee stated its concern for the “negative impact of harmful traditional practices, such as early and forced marriage, on girls’ education,” and “the continued prevalence of the harmful practice of female genital mutilation in some communities, which is a grave violation of girls’ and women’s human rights and of the State party’s obligations under the Convention.” They went on to call for effective implementation of the law, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators and awareness-raising and education. In its 2007 consideration of Kenya’s report, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that FGM “is still widely practiced, especially among certain indigenous and minority groups” and called on Kenya to “strengthen its measures regarding female genital mutilation and early marriages and ensure that the prohibition is strictly enforced” as well as to conduct awareness-raising and sensitization campaigns.

Despite frequent reports about cases of FGM and child marriage and girls escaping to avoid these practices, there have been no known investigations or prosecutions to date in the Pokot region and the government has taken no steps to protect the girls who are running away to avoid being violated.

What You Can Do: 

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Please join Equality Now and our partners WRIP and TNI in calling on the national government of Kenya and the local government in Pokot to take urgent action in accordance with Kenya’s international, regional and domestic obligations to ensure that:

  • Immediate steps are taken to protect, and provide support and shelter to, girls escaping FGM and child marriage and to ensure that at-risk girls are not subjected to FGM at any time and in particular during the school holidays.
  • Laws against FGM and child marriage are effectively implemented with proper investigation and prosecution of violations.
  • All concerned national and local level authorities work together to put into place protective measures within at-risk communities to protect girls from both child marriage and FGM, and to ensure that they are able to continue their education.
  • Awareness-raising and education campaigns are conducted to change cultural perception and beliefs on FGM and child marriage and acknowledging the practices as human rights violations with harmful consequences.

Letters should go to:

H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta
President of the Republic of Kenya
P.O. Box 30040
Nairobi, Kenya
Email: contact@statehousekenya.go.ke or president@statehousekenya.go.ke

H.E. Ms Anne Waiguru        
Cabinet Secretary
Ministry of Devolution and Planning
P. O. Box 30005 - 00100
Nairobi, Kenya
Fax: +254 20 2218475
Email: info@devolutionplanning.go.ke

Hon. Prof Githu Muigai., M.P.
Attorney General
Department of Justice, National Cohesion and
Constitutional Affairs
Harambee Avenue
P.O Box 40112-00100
Nairobi, Kenya
Fax: +254 20 315105
Email: info@justice.go.ke

H.E. Dr. Richard Belio Kipsang,
Cabinet Secretary
Ministry of Education, Science &Technology
Jogoo House B
Harambee Avenue
P.O. Box 30040
Nairobi, Kenya
Fax: +254 20 214 287

Benjamin C Cheboi
Baringo County Governor
P.O Box 53-30400,
Kabarenet, Kenya
Email: governor@baringocounty.go.ke

Simon Kitalei Kachapin
West-Pokot County Governor
PO Box 1 - 30600,
Kapenguria, Kenya
Email: info@westpokot.go.ke

With a copy to: The Kenya Women Parliamentary Association, Email: info@kewopa.org

Letters: 

Dear President/Minister/Governor,

Following reports of Kenyan girls running away from female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, especially during the August and December holidays in the Pokot region, I am deeply concerned about the Kenyan government’s lack of enforcement of its laws against FGM and child marriage.

The Pokot government needs to work within communities to protect and support girls and enforce laws to make sure violations are adequately addressed.

FGM and child marriage are human rights violations and have a host of negative physical and psychological implications for girls and women. Kenya is a party to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which requires State parties to prohibit both FGM and child marriage and to ensure “protection of women who are at risk of being subjected to harmful practices.” Kenya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and both the Committees associated with these treaties have called for an end to FGM and child marriage. The Kenyan constitution as well as Kenyan laws such as the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 and the Children’s Act 2001, ban FGM and child marriage.

I commend the government of Kenya for putting in place legislation on FGM and child marriage and for creating the Anti-FGM Board as important steps toward protecting the rights of Kenyan girls and women. However, despite frequent reports about cases of FGM and child marriage being carried out and girls escaping to avoid these practices, there have been no known investigations or prosecutions to date in the Pokot region, and the government has taken no steps to protect the girls who are running away to avoid being violated. I urge the national government of Kenya and the local government in Pokot to take urgent action in accordance with Kenya’s international, regional and domestic obligations to ensure that:

  • Immediate steps are taken to protect, and provide support and shelter to, girls escaping FGM and child marriage and to ensure that at-risk girls are not subjected to FGM at any time and in particular during the school holidays.
  • Laws against FGM and child marriage are effectively implemented with proper investigation and prosecution of violations.
  • All concerned national and local level authorities work together to put into place protective measures within at-risk communities to protect girls from both child marriage and FGM, and to ensure that they are able to continue their education.
  • Awareness-raising and education campaigns are conducted to change cultural perception and beliefs on FGM and child marriage and to acknowledging them as human rights violations with harmful consequences.

I thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,