In rural Kenya, traditions run deeper than law on cutting girls

Wed Nov 12, 2014 3:38pm EST
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By Siegfried Modola

BARINGO COUNTY Kenya (Reuters) - Draped in animal skin and covered in white paint, four teenage girls squat over large stones in a remote western Kenyan village after being circumcised - a life-threatening custom banned in the country three years ago.

Like the four neighbors, over a quarter of Kenyan women have undergone the ordeal, seen as a rite of passage for girls despite government efforts to end it in the East African country.

"It's a tradition that has been happening forever,"the father of one of the girls, who asked not to be named fearing reprisal from the authorities, told Reuters from the isolated Pokot settlement some 80km from the town of Marigat.

"The girls are circumcised to get married. It's a girl's transition into womanhood," he said.

Wrapped in bright colored shawls, the girls spent the night huddled around a fire in a thatched-roof house as local women gathered to sing and dance in support. One woman fell into a trance after sipping a local wine.

At its most extreme, circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation, involves cutting off the clitoris and external genitalia, then stitching the vagina to reduce a woman's sexual desire.

Practitioners use anything from razor blades to broken glass and scissors.

The U.N.'s Children's Fund, UNICEF, says more than 125 million women have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where genital mutilation is carried out.   Continued...

A Pokot girl, covered in animal skins, walks to a place where she will rest after being circumcised in a tribal ritual in a village about 80 kilometres from the town of Marigat in Baringo County, October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola