Covid-19 blamed for rise in female ‘cut’ and early marriages

Over 50 under age girls at a rescue center in Kuria east on October 5, 2020. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

The Covid-19 pandemic slowed down the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), leading to school dropouts and early marriages.

Officials in Kajiado County said during the prolonged schools closure, curfews and lockdowns, many girls were circumcised at night.

Parsanka Sayianka, an anti-FGM crusader with Il’laramatak Community Concerns, says many girls who faced FGM dropped out of school, were married off or got pregnant.

Sayianka explains that though the culture of older men marrying school going girls is fading away, “they wait till a girl is pregnant then they get an opportunity to marry them. “And sadly the girls are ‘cut’ during delivery.” This culture, he says, is common along the Kenya-Tanzania border and most girls fell victims when “the government’s attention was focused on Covid-19."

Eve Merin, the Kajiado County Director of Gender and Social Services, said Covid-19 saw the resurgence of FGM due to limited movement among families.

"For the war against FGM to be won, we have to involve men,” Says Merin.

During this year’s International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM marked on February 6, Unicef warned that Covid-19 threatened to reverse decades of progress against the practice, which threatens the health, education and future of girls.

Unicef estimates that an additional two million girls could be at risk by 2030 due to Covid-19, resulting in a 33 per cent reduction in the progress toward ending FGM.

Il’lramatak Community Concerns founder Agnes Leina said besides mentoring young mothers, her outfit sensitizes schoolgirls and boys on the effects of harmful cultural practices.

Female circumcisers and community elders have also been roped in as anti-FGM champions. “I am old now, but I understand the world is changing,” said Ntasikoi Olebene, 85, a former circumciser.


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