FGM, Early marriages blamed for poor school turnout

Hundreds of school girls in West Pokot County are yet to report back to school one week after partial re-opening due to mass Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages.

The long stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic is feared to have led to an increase in FGM and forced marriages among school going girls in the region.

A survey indicates that a number of girls have been escaping from their homes to Uganda for fear of being cut or married off.

In Chepareria Mixed Secondary School, only 16 of the 21 Form Four girls had reported back to school following partial re-opening last week.

John Cheryl, the principal said the school normally has 84 Form Four students but only 44 boys and 16 girls had reported back.

“We have made a follow up and discovered three girls are pregnant, two have babies and one is still missing.

“Most of the boys are involved in boda boda business and we are still talking to them to come back to school,” he said.

Non-governmental organisations working in the county have raised alarm over the high school dropout rates and called for an urgent intervention.

Speaking to the press in Kapenguria, Irep Foundation director Domtillah Chesang noted that more than 200 girls in the county underwent the cultural cut in May and June.

She pointed out that a 15-year-old Form One student from Masol who was abducted for FGM and forced in to marriage as a third wife is yet to be rescued. “Many girls crossed over to Uganda after the cut which is a prerequisite for marriage.

Married off

“A large number of learners may not report to school once they re-open because they have been married off,” she said.

Chesang pointed out that Irep Foundation was collecting data on the girls who will not report back owing to cultural factors.

“We still have challenges along international borders as girls escape and go to their relatives to get circumcised. We fear they might not come back to school,” she said.

Chesang said the prevalence rate of FGM in the county is 74 per cent more than the national average of 21 per cent, a dire situation that needs an urgent intervention.

“We had brought the issue of mass FGM against girls under control but the Covid-19 has taken us back,” she said.

Chesang added that the main reason for the upsurge of cases is idleness, lack of focus and hopelessness.

“There is misinformation in villages that Covid-19 will never end and people should cut their girls and marry them off. “Many have lost hope and girls have waited for months for schools to re-open and are now tired. They have now resorted to FGM and being married off to escape economic hardships,” she said.

Chesang said many girls in the villages are suffering in silence and need medical attention and pycho-social support.

“We need our girls alive. We must rescue them, save them and give them medical attention. They are traumatised and need help,” she said.

Francis Soprion, the Kapenguria Theatre Group board chair said it was unfortunate that parents are taking advantage of the uncertainty during this period to cut and marry off their girls.

“They should understand the dangers of the cut. Girls bleed to death and those who survive live with painful complications,” he said.

He called on the county and national governments to set up rescue centres along the borders for the  affected teenagers.