It was 2002, Maasai elders attacked and cursed Peter Lakanai after he thwarted their attempts to marry off a teenage girl to a man in Tanzania. However, 19 years later, the Endashiata Primary school teacher (Kajiado West) is still going strong, teaming up with other like-minded individuals to stop the vice.
According to Mr. Lakanai, elders from both ends had reached an agreement which would see the class seven girl (then) drop from school, undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and later join her rich to be husband in Tanzania.
“I took the lady to Kajiado Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church where she completed her studies and got married at the right age,” recalls teacher Lakanai, who was recently awarded by the county government of Kajiado for rescuing girls from early marriages and FGM.
Nonetheless, Lakanai is afraid that he may not be able to rescue more girls soon if more resources are not available.
“We only have one rescue center for girls in this area. It is hard to help as many girls as I would have imagined because Kajiado SDA rescue center is at times overwhelmed” he added.
In a community where men are the custodians of culture, it is seemingly hard to break certain barriers without involving them. A section of the men from the Maasai community is at the forefront to ensure FGM is a thing of the past. Last year, led by the middle-aged teacher, the group – comprising of close to twenty men – decided that they would join efforts in eradicating FGM in Kajiado County.
Data from UNICEF shows close to four million women in Kenya have undergone the cut depicting the sad state of affairs in 9 Kenyan counties, Kajiado being one of them.
With threats like excessive bleeding, urinary and menstrual problems together with increased risk of childbirth to women who have undergone female genital mutilation, men like Lomoyan Oletongoi have vowed never to allow his three girls experience what women in his community underwent back then.
Under normal circumstances in the Maasai culture, his eldest daughter who is now 9 years old would be a few years away to undergo the cut and off to marriage. That is not going to happen.
“FGM was a rite of passage to adulthood in our community. The father to the daughter was ready to receive bride price when his girl healed,” alludes Lomoyan.
Article 53 of the Kenyan constitution states that every child has a right to be protected from harmful cultural practices like FGM. But with existing challenges in Torosei location in Kajiado west like poverty, it seems an uphill task to fully eradicate the harmful cultural practice.
The area assistant chief Paul Kariangei says that most of the men heavily depended on bride price after marring off their children (daughters) who had passed through FGM.
“There is high poverty in this area, it is high time stakeholders walked in to give alternatives like business opportunities to these men who have shown willingness to embrace the new normal,” said Kariangei.
Moreover, some fears that neighboring Maasais from Tanzania, which borders Torosei four kilometers away, might still be embracing the culture leaves locals dejected.
This is likely to affect efforts in Kenya as some families are secretly letting go of their daughters to men on the other side of the border.
Assistant chief Kariangei however downplayed these claims arguing that the only business with their colleagues in Tanzania is the selling of livestock.
With Kenya joining the world in marking International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation today, the only hope for men like Kariangei, Lomoyan, and Lakanai is that more men would join them in fighting the culture which has coasted lives for ladies in their community.