Community policing: The weapon against sending Kenyan girls to Tanzania for FGM
Lekarokia ole Nang’oro stands on a rock at Olkiloriti in Oloitoktok, Kajiado County, looking across the border into Mbomai Village in Tanzania. Kajiado borders Nairobi to the south and extends all the way to Kenya’s border with Tanzania.
There is nothing to show the boundary between the two countries from where ole Nang’oro stands; just an open field.
A few minutes later, a boda boda (motorcycle taxi zooms by with a passenger from the Tanzanian side into Kenya. There is no security officer to establish permit for travel. And that is how easily girls are moved from Kenya to Tanzania to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM.
Cross-border FGM is a major hurdle in the fight against the vice in Kenya, a country where the government seeks to end the practice by 2022, just a month away.
Kenya’s legislation, the Prohibition of FGM Act 2011, outlaws the cut on girls and women, and further prohibits cross-border FGM. Under the law, an offender can earn a jail-term of not less than three years or a fine not below Sh200,000 ($1,785.71.
In Tanzania, the government prohibits FGM under its Sexual Offences Special Provision Act 1998, which criminalises the act on girls under 18 years. Those convicted of the crime are imprisoned for five to 15 years or fined up to Tsh300,000 ($130.32.
Tanzania’s FGM prevalence stands at 10 percent, half of Kenya’s at 21 percent.
Anti-FGM advocates blame the lack of harmonised laws for the rampant cross-border FGM. Maasais in Kenya with relatives in Tanzania find it easy to take their girls for the cut across the border where tracking is harder.
This was the case for 14-year-old Talei (identity protected from Rombo, Kajiado South Sub-county.
A week after schools closed for December holidays in 2018, her paternal uncle visited and she accompanied him to visit a friend in Useri in Tanzania’s Rombo District, which borders Kenya.
On arriving, Talei found herself in the homestead of a woman she had never met, who informed her she had been brought to undergo the cut.
And with a razor, the woman accomplished the mission.
“I could have run away if I was in Kenya,” Talei says.
On her return home a week later, she noticed unusual happenings.
“I saw a man bring five cows, a blanket and sugar. It didn’t bother me until my mother’s friend told me my dowry had been paid,” she narrates.
“We didn’t have any cattle. I understand my father was trying to escape poverty through me. And I know he couldn’t manage to see me through school since he had nothing,” she says.
Talei was later rescued after her mother’s friend informed police of the plans to marry off the girl. Talei was taken to a rescue centre in Kajiado County and resumed schooling.
Neema (identity protected from Njukini in Kajiado South went to visit her grandmother in Lang’ata in Tanzania’s Mwanga District the December of 2015. Her grandmother had her cut. She was nine years old.
“She told me I am a big girl and it was time for me to be cut. So she cut me by herself using a razor. By then, I had no clue that the cut is harmful or illegal,” she says. Neema returned home in January 2016 only for her father to inform her she was ready for marriage.
Neema says: “My father is poor… He would get cows through my marriage.”
She was rescued by her cousin, who placed her in a school for girls saved from FGM and early marriage.
Ole Nangoro, who chairs the Kajiado County Nyumba Kumi Initiative, shows us the vast swathes of the porous border where girls are ferried at night using boda bodas. Nyumba Kumi is a strategy by Kenya to anchor community policing at the household level by bringing together police, civil society and local communities.
Ole Nangoro says poverty is fuelling the cut.
“Here, FGM is a sort of pre-requisite for wealth. The fathers will tell you, ‘if I cut my daughter and marry her off, I’ll get five or six cows’,” he says.
To curb the criminal activity, the Nyumba Kumi leaders resolved to ban cross-border travel by boda boda beyond 10pm and before 6am except for medical emergencies.
Tanzania’s Inspector Paul Kimassa says it is difficult to get data on Kenyan girls brought into the country for the cut because of the deep secrecy in which FGM is done.
But together with their Kenyan counterparts along the border, including the police, chiefs and Nyumba Kumi leaders, the authorities continue to sensitise the locals from both sides on the need for community policing to stamp out the vice.
Judy Mamkwe, a Tanzanian from Kikelwa in the Kilimanjaro region, reported five cases of cross-border FGM last year, having been informed of the role of the community in saving girls.
Oloitoktok Senior Chief Isaiah Ole Samana says girls from Endonet, Rombo, Lenkisim, Oltiasika and Kuku are at most risk of cross-border FGM. And due to the expansiveness of the area, it is difficult to respond quickly when such cases are reported as resources are limited.
To end cross-border FGM, there is need for speedy prosecution of offenders and more resourcing of the relevant institutions, especially local administration, security agencies and anti-FGM organisations, the stakeholders say.
“Kenyan government has not allocated adequate and sufficient resources to ensure full implementation of the Anti-FGM Act and eliminate FGM in the country,” says Caroline Lagat, Programme Officer of End Harmful Practices at feminist organisation Equality Now.
“Once we do the arrests, we return the Kenyan nationals to Kenya for the authorities to follow through with prosecution while we conduct our own investigations and prosecute those from Tanzania,” he says.
“I have to be discreet in the way I inform the authorities to avoid reprisal,” says Ms Mamkwe.
Dorcus Parit, founder of Hope Beyond Foundation, which is actively involved in rescuing girls at risk of FGM and child marriage, says in the past six months, they have rescued 20 girls in Kajiado South Sub-county.
“In all the 20 cases, the perpetrators were arrested and taken to court. The cases are ongoing. Speedy conviction of the perpetrators will discourage others from supporting FGM or child marriage,” she says.
She says East African Community member states should commit themselves to passing a regional law, which will criminalise FGM across all countries and mandate them to coordinate to end the vice.
“Presently, laws across the territories of the EAC member states vary, with some having no law prohibiting FGM. They should also implement the Regional Declaration and Action Plan to Address FGM, which they adopted in April 2019,” Ms Lagat says.
She urges for the sensitisation of the boda boda riders “so they can provide information to law enforcement officers when they suspect they are being hired to aid and abet FGM.”
“We would end this cross-border FGM had each division had a vehicle,” he says.
“If we were to rescue a girl in Lenkisim, by the time we get a vehicle, she would have crossed the border.”
Often, the girls are transported at night to avoid arrest.
“There are many unsecured routes that these criminals use,” he says.
travels to seek medical attention were allowed in the curfew hours, but the Nyumba Kumi leader would have to be notified. He/she would then liaise with authorities in Tanzania to establish the genuineness of the case.
Ole Nangoro says last year they saved eight girls who were being transported to Tanzania by boda boda riders for the cut.
“The parents used to take them to Tanzania hospitals but started avoiding them when they realised we were following up. Now they do it in the homesteads. They either invite the doctor there or allow a traditional cutter to do it,” he says.
“The people prefer to avoid reporting these cases to remain in good books with their neighbours,” he says.
“I try as much as possible to speak with my fellow women to stop aiding the crime by refusing to cut the girls or reporting those who bring the girls for the cut,” she says.