A clash between traditionalists and parents on how and when to circumcise boys has left a string of casualties in the Mount Kenya region.
There are also fears that the mandatory rite of passage for boys has been hijacked by criminal gangs that forcibly circumcise boys as young as 10 and use lethal violence on initiates.
On Saturday last week, relatives and friends of 15-year-old Juliano Kanyonyo Mbatha, who was tortured to death after circumcision, buried him in Gaitu, Murang’a.
His death lifted the lid on the dark cloud of pain that has enveloped what was once regarded as an important initiation into manhood.
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The following day, news broke that 16-year-old Jimmy Egururu, who had undergone the cut and was left in the hands of a caretaker in Kamirithu, Limuru, had been found dead in unclear circumstances.
The teenager's body was found on his bed a day after the cut. The caretaker has since gone underground.
Investigations by The Standard indicate that parents of teenage boys in Mt Kenya region are torn between entrusting their sons to churches to organise circumcision rites and surrendering them to relatives in villages where some diehard traditionalists subject them to violence, sex and drugs.
In Igembe Central, Meru, a gang was said to be forcing boys as young as 10 years to be circumcised.
The gang has claimed that it is enforcing the 'traditional' way of conducting circumcision.
Reports indicate that the boys are circumcised without any anaesthesia and using unsterilised blades.
The gang forcibly circumcised Francis Kaane's 12-year-old son on Tuesday and dumped him by the roadside.
"I was called on Tuesday and informed that my son had been forcibly circumcised," he said.
The gang was also suspected of forcibly circumcising John Kaberia's 10-year-old Class Four son.
Mr Kaberia accused the area administrators of turning a blind eye to what he regarded as impunity and lawlessness.
"We are living as if we have no government in this region," he said.
Reports indicate that the gang lures young boys into the rite, encouraging them to steal from their parents to pay the circumcision fees.
Majority of the boys are secretly circumcised and kept in unhygienic conditions. They seem to take an oath not to reveal any information about who circumcised them.
In Kiambu, a number of parents told harrowing tales of molestation of the freshly circumcised boys by their 'circumcision guardians'.
They said the initiates were denied food and inducted into sex inside the secluded houses.
There were also reports of guardians introducing the initiates to drugs.
“The guardians who are entrusted with checking on the young boys have resorted to giving them drugs. This, among other things, has changed the traditional way of conducting circumcisions," said Vincent Njoroge, a high school teacher and peer counsellor.
He said there had been cases of freshly circumcised boys being tricked into smoking bhang after being convinced that it would reduce the pain and enhance their appetite for food.
John Kanja, 69, an elder in Kiambu, said the traditional way of conducting circumcision and subsequent healing had been infiltrated by bad habits that were undermining the fundamental reason of the initiation: turning boys into responsible young men.
Irked by reports of gangs taking over circumcision and fresh initiates being subjected to violence, drugs and sex, many parents have turned to churches for help.
The first wave of church-run circumcision ceremonies for boys started in Murang'a due to concerns about the treatment meted out to fresh initiates, much of it perpetuated by the outlawed Mungiki sect.
Elders from the mainstream churches would identify a secluded place where the boys would camp to undergo circumcision after intensive guidance and counselling.
Initially, the elders, led by Kinyanjui Karindi, faced strong opposition from the community.
Years later, the idea has spread throughout the country, with more churches taking the lead in hosting circumcision rites, for which they charge up to Sh10,000 for each initiate.
According to Anglican Church of Kenya Mt Kenya West Diocese Bishop Joseph Kagunda, the church was among the first to come up with the programme after realising that the sons of single mothers were the most affected.
"Besides food, they did not get much in terms of counselling and being guided into the next phase of their lives. Now we teach them about being responsible," said Bishop Kagunda.
Bishop Paul Wanjohi of New Life Church underscored the important role that the Church played in the rite of passage, saying the boys would carry the messages they got during the period throughout their lives.
"It is an important event and a covenant with God. Parents have to make sure that their children are with the right people who counsel them. It is very important to entrust your children to the Church knowing the kind of values we are inculcating in the children. This is not something that should be taken lightly," he said.
Parents who cannot afford the church fees leave their sons at the mercy of 'circumcision guardians', some of whom are violent bullies and extortionists.
In Murang’a, the region's elders have distanced themselves from the claims of torture of initiates, saying this went against the traditional way of conducting circumcision.
The elders met at Kiambuthia village in Mathioya, where they expressed dismay at last week's killing of the 15-year-old initiate and the commercialisation of the rite of passage.
“It is uncouth for a guardian in Kikuyu community to demand a chicken from a widow to facilitate the initiation process,” said Kiarie Rugami.