Understanding Legal Rights

431047_10150454864926116_1452921297_nAlthough Kenya has passed a law prohibiting female genital mutilation, centuries-old customs remain strong and in place in remote and rural villages.

As in all Maasai villages, women and girls remain severely marginalized by a cultural tradition that does not value girls’ education. Girls are regularly married off at the tender age of 12 after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful and dangerous rite of passage into adulthood.

The Maasai are a polygamist tribe, and many young girls become second or third wives to men two or three times their age. Most girls are married shortly after puberty when they undergo FGM, a traditional practice that removes part or all of the external female genitalia. The practice occurs widely throughout Kenya. It is believed that the “cutting” ceremony turns girls into women and makes them pure for marriage, increasing the girl’s bride price.

Expected to assume the role of a wife and mother at a young age, girls are put under significant pressure to immediately have children, increasing the rate of early pregnancy. Young mothers are unduly susceptible to complications during pregnancy because their bodies are not yet mature enough for childbirth. They lack access to healthcare facilities, and they are not aware of the importance of prenatal healthcare. Additionally, early sexual intercourse puts them at higher risk for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections because their more-experienced husbands are more likely to be carriers. Girls who have undergone FGM have higher dropout rates and higher percentages of teen pregnancy.

Education is one way to stop FGM. Education teaches the community about the adverse consequences of the destructive ritual and also teaches the girls that they have the right to say no. KCE gives its girls the tools to stand up for themselves and provides them with a safe haven to learn and grow into strong, independent women.