Pandemic derails anti-FGM drive in Kenya

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The coronavirus pandemic is jeopardising Kenya‘s goal of ending female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2022. Campaigners are reporting ‘mass cuttings’ of girls who are at home while schools are closed. One in five females aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia. A report on the allAfrica site notes that Nairobi criminalised the practice in 2011, but it persists as some communities see it is necessary for social acceptance. Domtila Chesang, an anti-FGM campaigner, said she had received reports of up to 500 girls undergoing FGM since schools closed on 16 March.

“Parents are facing an uncertain future due to loss of income caused by the coronavirus, so they are having the girls cut and will marry them off,” said Chesang. She added that “we cannot respond and campaign the way we used to as our movements are restricted and a lot of it is hidden”.

Chesang said the government had also ordered charities to shut rescue shelters as they did not comply with social distancing measures, leaving many girls unable to escape communities where they were at risk of FGM. An estimated 200m girls and women worldwide have undergone the ancient ritual of FGM, practised in at least 27 African countries and parts of Asia and the Middle East.

The report says Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged in November to end FGM by 2022 – eight years ahead of the 2030 global goal agreed by UN member states. The head of the Anti-FGM Board, a semi-autonomous government agency, said she had received reports of FGM from counties including West Pokot, Baringo and Samburu and were working with local police to rescue girls and arrest suspects.

Bernadette Loloju said the Anti-FGM board was in discussion with the Department for Children’s Services to issue guidelines for shelters so that they can reopen. But with schools not expected to reopen in Kenya until September, campaigners fear a heightened risk to girls from not only FGM, but also child marriage, teen pregnancy and sexual violence.

“Progress to end FGM has been tremendously interrupted because of the pandemic. Much of the response plan is based on physical engagement with communities, which has been hampered,” said Felister Gitonga, programme officer for Equality Now.

Full Thomson Reuters Foundation material

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