It has been over six years since Naipanoi (not her real name) was rescued from her family in Sieku, Laikipia North, after she was forced to undergo a traditional sexual exploitation practice called ‘beading’.
Beading is a deep-rooted cultural practice among the Samburu that entails a moran identifying a young girl from the same clan for sexual intercourse after circumcision.
He negotiates with the girl’s mother and brothers without the girl’s consent. The moran then gives out a ‘special’ beaded necklace (ngerii) to the minor for a temporary sexual relationship, but with no obligation of marrying her.
Naipanoi was only nine years old when she was sexually molested and later gave birth. She was also circumcised during childbirth before she was eventually rescued.
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Since her rescue, she has had a peaceful life in Doldol where she was hosted together with other girls who are victims of such retrogressive cultural practices.
Naipanoi’s sufferings under the hands of her uncles who even forced her out of school were slowly fading into distant memory until a week ago when the government issued a directive to have all minors held in children institutions released back to their families.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection issued a circular to directors of children department in all the counties directing them to close the centres over the coronavirus pandemic.
Naipanoi together with her baby were rescued by One More Day for Children (OMDC) and given shelter at the organisation’s safe house in Doldol.
She only went back to her uncle about a month ago after the issuance of the directive by Principal Secretary Nelson Marwa.
Her return home where she was forced into sexual exploitation brings back dark memories that only awaken the painful scars of harmful cultural practices.
Naipanoi’s worries go beyond exposure to dangerous cultural activities. She says since she left the safe house, she has never gotten a chance to revise for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination.
“My uncle is always on my case. I am expected to carry out house chores and look after the livestock all day,” said the Form Four student at St Francis Girls in Doldol.
Naipoi has found herself between a rock and a hard place. When The Standard spoke to her on phone, she was contemplating escaping from her uncle’s in Sieku and trace her father, who she believes lives in Kipsing in Isiolo.
“I would rather run away than suffer in the hands of my relatives. I don’t even have basic necessities,” said Naipanoi, adding that she leaves home at 6am to look after livestock till late in the evening.
While the Ministry of Education insists that studying is ongoing through virtual learning, Naipanoi might have to cover the curriculum after schools resume to catch up with her fellow candidates, even when her stay at home has already put her at risk of domestic violence.
Just like Naipanoi, another girl has had to escape from her home in Doldol to the safe houses’ staff quarter due to abuse by her mother.
She was rescued when she was just four years old and is now a Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination candidate.
Even though her home is metres from the safe house, she cannot return due to her mother’s hostility.
She explained that her mother fights her when she questions her drinking behaviour.
The Stay Home Stay Safe campaign to keep the virus at bay may not work in such situations as school closure enters the third month.
Lawyer William Kiget said the directive contravenes court orders which committed some girls into rescue centres and safe houses.
“Any decision made must be in the interest of the children but in this scenario, the government violates the rights of the children,” said Mr Kiget.
In another case, a girl who fled home in 2011 for fear of being subjected to Female Genital Mutilation has also ran away from her parents’ home to a relative’s house in Kipsing after she was threatened with the cut. She had been offered safe haven at the centre.
According to OMDC Executive Director Hellen Gathogo, the circular by the ministry discriminates survivors of gender-based violence put in rescue centres and safe houses.
“Are we not exposing the survivors and breaking their trust? They were rescued because their lives were at risk and now we are giving them back to the same people they were rescued from,” she added.
Gathogo further said the institutions will have to introduce post-corona counselling for the girls, adding that some perpetrators of teenage pregnancies who have never been arrested might expose them to more risks.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if some girls return to the safe house cut and others pregnant. We are ready for the worst because this is a reality we cannot ignore. The government is doing injustice to these girls yet we are looking at eradicating Female Genital Mutilation by 2022,” she added.
Anti-FGM board chairperson Agnes Pareiyo said there are similar cases of girls being subjected to FGM and later married off in Narok County.
“I have received seven cases of girls who have been married off in Narok. Cases of teenage pregnancies as a result of defilement are on the rise at the moment,” said Pareiyo.