A ‘CUTTING’ TRIAL – Face to face with one of the first Kenyan cutters to be prosecuted – by Aimee Ling
She wept as she spoke about the troubles she currently faces. Tears strolled down her deeply wrinkled face as she sobbed, gazing through the opening of her small but perfectly formed mud hut into the surrounding savannah.
“The first I knew of my wrongdoing was when the law appeared at my door and I was arrested”. Up until that time, for her entire career as a cutter, Laya Nakkai had known it to be entirely acceptable, just a part of her everyday culture.
She thanked us for visiting upon hearing of her troubles and welcomed us with some hot, spiced chai. I was there with local anti-FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) campaigner Eve Merin. I had been staying with Mama Eve in Olubelibel, a small Masai rural farming community 90 minutes outside of Kaijado as part of a cultural exchange/ volunteer programme run by Chase Africa.
Having undergone the procedure herself and having observed the perpetuating cycle of early child marriage, Mama Eve works tirelessly in the community to eradicate the practices. She runs empowerment programmes for the local women whilst also rescuing young girls both at risk of FGM and early child marriage. FGM is the deliberate mutilation of female genitalia. It is seen by many as a right of passage into womanhood and a condition of marriage. Some believe that vaginas need to be cut and that women will be unhealthy, unclean or unworthy if they don’t have FGM. These beliefs are very strong and parents genuinely think that they are doing the right thing for their daughters. FGM is common across East and Sub Saharan Africa, some parts of the middle east and through to Asia (although there are also many girls as risk in the UK too). There are 4 different forms of FGM, these range from pricking or cutting the clitoris, to also cutting the labia and then sealing the vagina together to leave just a tiny hole through which to menstruate, urinate, have sex and give birth. The procedure is often carried out with blunt and non sterilised instruments and the sealing not simply with thread but thorns. As you can imagine, there are no health benefits to this, just a list of unjustifiable horrific health problems, the most immediate including severe pain and bleeding; shock; difficulty in passing urine; infections; injury to nearby genital tissue and sometimes death. The pain inflicted by FGM does not stop there but carries on throughout the woman’s life, often resulting in severe childbirth complications, reducing if not eliminating sexual pleasure and post traumatic stress disorders.
No matter how passionate Mama Eve and I were for the eradication of FGM, as we sat with Laya, it was hard not to empathise with her and the situation she had found herself in. To date Laya has paid out 250,000 k/s (£1700) in court fees and more is yet to come leaving her completely destitute. Both her and the parents of the young girl concerned are facing charges one of the first prosecutions of it’s kind in the country!
Laya had been performing the procedure for the local communities girls for 40+ years and knew nothing of her wrongdoing. She is now stuck with court fees she cannot afford unable to support her twin sons through school. All of her resources: cows, goats and crops have been sold to cover the fees. All she longs for now is enough money to get her boys through school so they can have a better tomorrow, a real chance at a better life. A mere £10 pounds per month, per son is all it would cost, but this is too much for her to afford.
Laya’s prosecution has set a strong example and I have no doubt that the ripple effect of the prosecution will be felt across the region, deterring other families and cutters from doing the same. When speaking earlier in the week with another group of local women 100% of whom had been cut as girls, all 18 proclaimed that they would not allow for it to happen to their girls, this is all thanks to Mama Eve’s hard work.
Laya charged 1000 k/s (£7) per girl and explained that the procedure would take no more than 30 minutes. I asked how she first got into the profession and she explained that she had both the skill and courage to do it not everyone has the courage to cut a girl. When asked if she ever found it emotionally difficult to cut she simply said no.
Laya is now clearly remorseful of her actions, through her tears she says that she knows she has done wrong, has learnt from her mistakes and will never cut again. All she asks is that her boys are not also victims and suffer through her mistakes.
The court case continues and it’s likely that she’ll be sentenced to 3 years in prison. Although a passionate advocate for antiFGM, I find myself wondering if that’s 3 years too many for an old lady who knew nothing of her wrongdoing and is simply a victim of her own entrenched culture. Let’s hope that the result is countless uncut, unharmed, untraumatised girls and that this example is felt far and wide across the nation.
If you would like to find out more about the work that Mama Eve or Chase Africa do in the community or would like to directly support children and their families out of poverty please get in touch:
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MAMA EVE Enkisulata Sidai (Good Victory) firstname.lastname@example.org
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You can also find out more on the practices of FGM here:
From the writer, Aimee Ling: “I’m passionate about youth development, female empowerment and a general advocate for human rights. I was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to travel to East Africa…for work and a bit of an adventure of my own. Part of my time was to be spent managing volunteers for Inspire Worldwide in Tanzania but a few weeks were to be spent visiting a couple of charities that a close friend of mine has been heavily involved in through Chase Africa. This article focuses on my stay in Kenya’s Masai land with community activist, teacher and general incredible woman – Eve Merin or Mama Eve. During my stay with Mama Eve I had the opportunity to meet with the local women, learn about the great work that Eve does, speak at local schools and to also meet with one of the first prosecuted cutters in Kenya.”
Sing. Shout. Smile. Laugh. Live. #EndFGM
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