For girls in western Kenya, returning to school after the Christmas break means that they will be subjected to tests for female genital mutilation. The tests are a part of a crackdown against the illegal and dangerous practice.
A senior Kenyan government official told the news outlet that they are also being tested for pregnancy.
“We have the highest rates of teen pregnancies in the country, and female genital mutilation is widespread in some communities in Narok, but it is difficult to detect these cases as it is all underground and secretive,” George Natembeya, commissioner for Narok County, said.
Since schools reopened in Narok on Thursday, Natembeya said girls aged between 9-17 years old were being given pregnancy tests and examined for female genital mutilation – FGM – by trained medical professionals in local schools and clinics.
He added that the tests came due to many girls being forced to undergo female genital mutilation during the Christmas vacation, and pregnancies following it were common.
“The tests will help us to better support girls who often have to hide their pregnancies and health complications after undergoing FGM. We will also be able to prosecute men who defile them, and go after their parents who force them to undergo FGM.”
Girls will be given support to return home if they are pregnant and guaranteed admission to school after giving birth, he said, adding that those who had undergone FGM would be given counseling and medical attention.
The tests have sparked outrage among women’s’ rights groups who said the compulsory tests are demeaning and would further victimize and traumatize girls.
“The Narok county commissioner’s efforts to fight FGM in the past are to be commended, but this is not the right way. This is demeaning and violates a girl’s right to dignity and privacy,” said Felister Gitonga from the campaign group Equality Now.
FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is prevalent across parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is seen as necessary for social acceptance and increasing a girl’s marriage prospects.
It is usually performed with unsterilized blades or knives and in some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. It can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula and fatal childbirth complications.
Kenya officially criminalized it in 2011. According to the United Nations, one in five Kenyan women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.
“We have to take this to another level now and go after the parents and traditional cutters as this will help act as a deterrent,” Natembeya said. “Those who think I am doing a bad thing, let them come up with an alternative proposal and we will implement that. But we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand when the problem is festering.”