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technology 25 Nov 2019

The COVID-19 Pandemic increasing FGM cases nationwide

By Peter Ongalo

In a situation of conflict and disaster, a number of societal ill are highly prevalent presenting life-threatening challenges to the victims. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the best opportunity for perpetrators of female circumcision to promote the illegal practice. For instance, School girls in Tharaka Nithi County have been facing a rough time as it has been revealed that some parents have taken the advantage of them being out of school to promote FGM.

Beverly Opwora, Tharaka Nithi County Commissioner, recently spoke out on the issue and said the practice is a top-secret exercise which is being conducted at night, very common in some parts of Igambang’ombe, Tharaka North and Tharaka South sub-counties where even girls as young as 10 years are being circumcised.

The practice has been very normalized and there is a lot of segregation towards those who haven’t been circumcised in these communities. The intimidation pushes some of the girls to undergo the dangerous cultural practice. Ms Opwora stressed that the situation has gotten worse to the extent where women from other regions who are married in the community have also been having a hard time as they are also being forced to undergo the cut. According to residents, some mothers-in-law cannot eat food prepared by their uncircumcised daughter in-law’s, compelling their sons to force them to undergo the illegal rite of passage.

Recently in Meru County, five women were charged and fined for undergoing FGM.The court found the women guilty on their own plea of guilt and fined them Sh200, 000 in default to serve three years behind bars. In sentencing the suspects, the court noted the crime was on the rise in the area and called for a deterrent sentence. “The offence is rampant and deterrence sentence is called for,’’ ruled the resident magistrate who passed the judgement. These are just among the few cases that have made it to the light and are a clear indication of how prevalent the practice has been during the pandemic.

Globally it is estimated that 200 million girls and women undergo female genital mutilation, 3 million girls are at risk every year, and every 11 seconds a girl undergoes the cut. Whereas in Kenya, one in five women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone the procedure which usually involves partial or total removal of female genitalia causing the girls serious health problems.

Its high time we intensify the fight against FGM.Many girls have been forced to accept the cut in fear of social sanctions such as being ostracized or stigmatized by people in society. Cultural sanctions such as curses or being excommunicated by the elderly have left the girls with no choice but to accept the nefarious act performed on them. Some have even met physical harm from their parents for declining the cut. It is a true struggle for the girl child in the unsophisticated society. The nationwide curfew measure that was put in place to curb the spread of Coronavirus may hamper efforts to mitigate this vice further.

All measures should be put in place to end FGM as it has no health benefits attached to it, in fact, it only causes harm to the girls. Coronavirus has put Kenya’s goal of ending FGM by 2022 in jeopardy. Men also need to speak out and join the Anti-FGM agencies, as they are the fathers and husbands to the girls and women who are forced in these backdated acts. Say no to FGM to protect the girls.