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Teens vow to end retrogressive cultural practices

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies and early marriages remain serious problem affecting lives of many women and girls globally.

In West Pokot County, the government, non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious groupings are working towards ending these vices.

The government, NGOs and religious authorities have put a solid base for boosting the campaign against the practices in order to transform the lives of rural women and girls.

Among the Pokot community, circumcision forms and integral components of their traditions where those who undergo the right of passage are regarded and highly revered to be responsible adults.

The prime time for the circumcision of boys are between the ages 15-20, while girls undergo FGM between ages 12-17.

In girls FGM is seen as a rite of passage that confirms the girl’s progression to womanhood.

The Anti FGM network reveals that grazing lands in Kenya -Uganda border areas including Mbolongole ,Lorukum, Kasitot, Kamnai, Lorukum, Nasal, Karagum, Lokiterangan, Nauyapong in Alale ward that borders Uganda, and Amudat, Nakonyen, Omanman river in Uganda has spiked cases of FGM.

The narrative is now changing after World Vision Kenya an organization came up with an intervention strategy to educate and create awareness to over 200 teenagers from Kenya and Uganda who have made a declaration to end Female Genital Mutilation, early forced marriages and teenage pregnancies in the region.

The World Vision Kenya sensitized the teenagers during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

World Vision Kenya organization conducted a five-day camp at Alale Girls boarding primary school where boys and girls ages 12 years and above drawn from various schools graduated after being taken through the alternative rites of passage training dubbed ‘‘Alale Anti-FGM project’’.

Alale Division Assistant County Commissioner (ACC), Maurice Ogweno who presided over the graduation of 232 boys and girls on Saturday said the issue of FGM in the region is insignificant.

‘‘Issues of FGM and early marriages are there but no prevalent in comparison to a few years back. We have put strategies in place, and we are addressing the issue.

The area chiefs have tried to arrest the situation by cracking down on the perpetrators and managing behavioural change,’’ ACC Ogweno said.

ACC Ogweno said the Pokot community still settle these cases out of court but recently, five FGM cases have been fully prosecuted.

World Vision Children Officer, Teresa Cheptoo who organized the training said Alale Anti-FGM project enabled over 200 adolescent and youth across Kenya – Uganda border to cover topics including culture, society and traditions, FGM and law, biblical teaching on children and their relationships, children’s rights, adolescent and body changes, self-esteem and self-reliance, good morals and ethics, education, good health and disease prevention and Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP) contrary to the vices.

‘‘During these 16 days of activism, we as world vision we have contributed through training of teenagers on matters that directly touched on their lives. We tackled issues including anti-FGM issues, HIV/AIDS, early forced marriage, child rights, responsibilities in life, life skills for both boys and girls, spiritual nourishment and health rights aimed at changing their mindset from longtime prescribed practices of FGM that have been rampant in the entire West Pokot County,’’ the World vision children officer Ms. Cheptoo said.

Ms. Cheptoo stated they used an approach of education as the best option to break the cycle of FGM, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), teenage pregnancies and early marriages in the county.

She disclosed the desire of World Vision was to have an Anti-FGM project at Alale ward in West Pokot County to help curb FGM case that often spikes along Kenya-Uganda boarder.

‘‘It has been the desire or prayer of world Vision to begin our program in Alale because of issue of cross border, child marriage and FGM cases where perpetrators have been  crossing over to their Pokot cousins in Uganda,’’ she explained.

She noted World Vision Kenya was celebrating the successes the Anti-FGM project has brought to residents of Alale Ward after they launched it in April of this year to date.

‘‘Today we are in December, we are about to close the first year, and we are happy with the successes that we have seen the program bring in this area,’’ she cheerfully said.

She asserted the messages that were shared during the graduation ceremony was impactful to the parents enabling them to take care of their children against the issues of FGM, child marriage and early pregnancies.

‘‘We are having 232 children here today graduating and not all of them are from Kenya, it is a cross border project, and so we have children from across Uganda and also from Kenya who have been thought and are ready to face the issues that affected them in the community,’’ Ms Cheptoo hailed.

She stressed there is a big challenge with boys in Pokot community since a number of them have no idea of what FGM is and what it means.

‘‘Something I have realized in this community that boys do not know exactly what girls go through when somebody is said to be cut,’’

‘‘From a long time, issues of FGM have revolved around women and girls but then we realized that we were doing so little in terms of the impact that we were making, so we decided we are also going to involve boys in this process so that they can understand really what the issue of FGM is,’’ she cautioned

She expressed that after the training, the boys have gone out stronger than girls to say no to FGM and GBV.

The children’s officer said she was happy both boys and girls who were trained now have full knowledge on issues of FGM, child marriage, court process and kind of punishment that one can face if found guilty of committing a crime related to FGM and GBV.

The Officer said parents who attended the graduation ceremony of their children were very happy and interested with what their children learnt during the camp training.

She said she found many parents of the children who were sensitized showed interest in the fight against FGM and GVB contrary to their traditional belief.

She remarked that teenagers showed confidence that they shall now be able to pursue their education to the highest levels and sensitized on how they can educate their parents to boycott the vice.

She stated that FGM menace has shattered the dreams of hundreds of girls and women in the region.

‘‘Girls dropping out of school from the region have been attributed to FGM which countdown to early marriage and pregnancies,’’ she reiterated.

Damaris Chemosop, aged 15, one of the girls who underwent training from Kapkenda Girls High School said she will take an active role to educate parents on the effects of FGM, early marriage and teenage pregnancies.

Evans Kipruto from Kamito Boys High School in West Pokot County called on parents to give girls a chance to pursue their education to the highest levels for them to develop full potential of themselves and help reduce their vulnerability.

‘We are saying NO to the vices. The Pokot community underrates girls, they don’t put efforts into girl education.

Bonface Rotich a medical practitioner affirmed that FGM has no medical benefits to women and girls, but instead it does a lot of harm which range from pain, bleeding, infections, death, damages and interfere with the normal functioning of female genital tissues and even causes psychological trauma to the victim.

By Anthony Melly

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