Kenya: Parents Use School Coronavirus Lockdowns for Female Genital Mutilation

A six-year-old girl undergoes female genital mutilation in Somalia – which 95% of girls aged 4 to 11 face there. Photograph: Jean-Marc Bouju/AP
Jean-Marc Bouju/AP

Rural communities in Kenya are reportedly taking advantage of school closures due to the coronavirus to perform female genital mutilation (FGM), Reuters reported on Tuesday.

In Kenya, 21 percent of women and girls, aged 15-49, have undergone FGM, according to United Nations data. The procedure requires the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and can cause grave health problems for the entirety of a girl’s lifetime and death.

In 2011, Kenya criminalized FGM with a punishment of three years imprisonment and a $2,000 fine. Nonetheless, Kenyans continue to perform the barbaric procedure; some communities erroneously view the gruesome ritual as necessary for girls’ social acceptance and marriage prospects.

On April 6, Kenya’s president placed some parts of the country on lockdown, limiting people’s movements to curb the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. On March 27, Kenya had enacted a dusk-to-dawn curfew. With the new restrictions on movement, young people are confined to their homes more than usual. In Kenya’s northern Samburu county, schools were closed early on March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, reports of FGM have increased in this county.

In an interview with Reuters published on Tuesday, Bernadette Loloju, chief executive of the semiautonomous government agency Anti-FGM Board, said she had received several reports that girls – specifically girls kept home from school – had been forced to undergo FGM in Samburu.

“We did confirm one girl who was at risk [of FGM] and a case is registered with the police, and her mother has been arrested,” said Loloju, adding that the child was about 12 years old.

“We don’t want to take any chances. We have to be vigilant, which is why we are trying to step up efforts in light of this [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic,” Loloju said.

Authorities have since asked village chiefs and community workers to visit rural communities in Samburu county and report cases where girls may be at risk, according to Loloju.

Last year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to end FGM in Kenya by 2022. At the time of the announcement, women’s rights groups argued that the goal was unrealistic due to many factors in Kenya, such as remote locations, severe poverty, and a high prevalence rate in certain parts of the country.

The practice occurs throughout Africa. In Egypt, a 12-year-old died in January after an FGM procedure was forced upon her by her parents, who were later arrested. FGM is reported in Africa more than any other part of the world.

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