Reconciliation, reintegration new strategy in FGM fight

Thursday, February 6th, 2020 00:00 |
Jackline Soila with Dorcas Parit, director of Hope Beyond Foundation. Photo/PD/MANUEL NTOYAI

Manuel Ntoyai @Manuel_Ntoyai

For Jackline Soila, 16, the three years she spent at a rescue centre seemed like eternity. She lived a life of fear of the unknown, just like thousands of other girls in her situation. She had been cursed.

In the Maasai culture, a curse is not something to joke with or even thought of in any way whatsoever. A curse is placed when a young one disobeys their elders- either parents or the Oloibon.

In her case, running away from home to avoid Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage earned her the curse.

Worse, she got her father arrested and had him part with some money as fine. 

“I was happy when I was rescued, but in the back of my mind I was not okay. I feared for my future.

I could not wait for the day the director would come home with the good news that my dad has agreed to meet and reconcile with me,” she says in tears. 

The emotional turmoil and the fear of the unknown in Soila were so evident that Dorcas Parit, director of Hope Beyond Foundation where Soila stayed had to do something about it. She sought the reconciliation of the distressed child and her parents. 

“When family ties are broken, there are a lot of traumatic experiences that follow. First the fathers, who are arrested and pay fines of Sh200,000 or jailed, curse their daughters.

I remember there’s an old man who told me I have taken food from his mouth after forcing him to return the dowry of four heifers, blankets and some money,” says Parit.

The reunion was as expected, when they arrived at their boma in Lemong’o village in Amboseli.

Soila’s mother who expresses joy at the return of her daughter.  Photo/PD/MANUEL NTOYAI

Tears of joys flowed and the family could be happy again. Tears in such a case are cherished as they represent forgiveness and a new beginning. 

“I had missed my siblings and the family life that makes it all special. When dad saw me back home he was happy because I had changed. I had gained confidence and was getting an education,” Soila says. 

“After my daughter was rescued, things were tough at home. The unbearable tension was mounting and the bitterness by my husband was open for everyone.

However the law and time made him change his mind at the end. Time heals,” says Esther Lankeu, Soila’s mother. 

While she says her actions caused embarrassment and pain to her father, cooling his heels at the police station for a couple of days and the money he paid served as a bitter lesson to him and other villagers who intended to follow suit. 

Biggest fear

“My younger sisters were saved from this ordeal. I am happy about that. However, I know of my peers who bowed to pressure and got circumcised and married off.

Apart from curses, some parents go to an extent of visiting a witchdoctor to unsettle you mentally. This is the biggest problem, fearing the aftermath,” says Soila.

Parit tells of an incident involving an oloibon (medicine man), who had bewitched his daughter and had to perform elaborate rituals, involving a gourd, grass, milk and cow dung, to undo the spell before she could be accepted back into the family.

“The biggest fear these girls face is not even the trauma of being cut, but the psychological problems that come later.

They believe they have been cursed and while their bodies are here physically, mentally they are far, tortured by the thoughts of broken family ties, with some aware they will never see their parents again,” says18-year-old John Lolepo, who studies at Lenkai Christian School run by the rescue centre. 

Such background has brought to the fore the question about reconciliation and reintegration of rescued girls back in the society they ran away from.

There are concerns by various stakeholders that safe havens for the rescued girls are based on an unsustainable structure. 

“We are concerned that children’s officers use guidelines set for running orphanages in policing rescue centres, which should not be the case. These are two different institutions with different obligations,” says Parit.

While safe house is a temporary place to shelter individuals from hostility, an orphanage is where orphans or children from disadvantaged backgrounds are placed. 

For many stakeholders, reconciling the rescued girls with their families is important. 

“It is a violation of children’s rights to keep them in isolation and separate them from their parents and families,” says Fredrick Nchoko, an FGM activist and programmes manager at Maafleva Entertainment.

However, it is not always smooth sailing. Some families are not always ready to open doors to their ‘prodigal’ daughters.

When that happens, the centre takes the responsibility over the child indefinitely. 

“We try to make the girls as comfortable as possible by assuring them about their education and encouraging them as it might take time before they are allowed back,” Parit adds.

The strategy has worked in different ways. Parit says the number of girls running away from the centre has reduced and it is easier to work on various programmes. 

“Once girls have been reconciled with their families, it is easy for the rescue centre to plan accordingly for their education,” she explains. 

Reconciliation and reintegration does not work in isolation. There are efforts by Kajiado county government to domesticate Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2011, and legislating a county policy for the eradication of FGM in 2019.

“The policy on FGM intends to sensitise the community that the practice is illegal and a violation of human rights, empower and support mutilators performing FGM to embrace alternative sources of livelihood. 

“It also seeks to strengthen multi-sectoral interventions, coordination, networking, partnership and community participation in accelerating the eradication of FGM in the county,” states Eve Merin, Director Gender and Social services, Kajiado. 

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