Tribal leaders in northern Kenya pledged on Friday to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage in their communities, a step hailed by President Uhuru Kenyatta as “an important milestone” in boosting girls’ rights.
One in five women and girls aged between 15 and 49 in Kenya have undergone FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and can cause serious health problems, the United Nations says.
Kenya outlawed the widely condemned practice a decade ago, but it continues in some communities such as the semi-nomadic Samburu tribe, who see it as necessary for social acceptance and improving their daughters’ marriage prospects.
About 86% of Samburu women and girls have been cut, according to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, and Kenyatta said the declaration by Samburu elders to end FGM was a key step toward realizing his goal of eradicating the practice by 2022.
“My father used to obey and respect traditions, and we also should do the same. But in doing this, we should identify traditions that harm our children and drop them, and only continue with those that are of importance to them,” Kenyatta said during an event to mark the declaration in Samburu County.
“The girl child, just like the boy child, can be taught of very important traditions in our communities so that they can graduate as adults without being harmed,” he added.
About 23% of Kenyan girls are married before they reach the legal age of 18, says UNICEF. Many are also subjected to FGM which is seen as a “rite of passage” before they wed.
In the Samburu community, child marriage prevalence is about 17%, according to a 2017 UNICEF Survey.