In Kenya, Growing Support for New Rites of Passage

31 August, 2016

Communities in southern Kenya are slowly changing practices connected to the traditional ideas of passage from girl to woman.

Alternative rites of passage, or ARPs, are growing in popularity in place of female genital mutilation, or FGM.

FGM, also known as circumcision, is the cutting and removal of parts of sex organs.

In Kenya, FGM is illegal, but some communities continue to practice it.

VOA recently went to an alternative rites ceremony. It took place in the town of Oloitoktok, in Kajiado County. About 400 Maasai girls took part to mark their passage into womanhood.

The ceremony used to involve FGM. But here, the girls are receiving a special blessing from older members of their community.

Sabina Lakara is one of the girls.

"I'm happy because I have undergone ARP and I haven't undergone FGM because it causes a lot of diseases and a girl may die. And also I'm wonderful because we have told our parents the bad effects of FGM and now they have left it."

Laserian Katau worked as a female circumciser for more than 20 years. She says she circumcised about 200 girls. But she is now a strong supporter of ARP. She teaches the girls two days of classes about life as a woman.

She said, "Some of the elders have not embraced alternative rites of passage and you know they are the decision makers, so that's a major challenge. But in our village, we have embraced it because of information and education."

ARPs began in Kenya seven years ago. But FGM is still done to an estimated 100,000 girls in Kenya each year.

Nice Nailantei is a fellow in U.S. President Barack Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative. She is also an ARP international ambassador for the Nairobi-based nonprofit Amref Health Africa. She avoided an FGM operation when she was eight years old.

"We should invest in education because all these harmful traditional practices -- female genital mutilation, early marriages, teenage pregnancies -- if we are not educating our girls, if we are not investing in education, they will never end. But once we realize that there's an importance of educating our girls the same as educating our boys, that is when as a community we will be able to move forward."

The girls are given documents at the end of the ceremony. The papers serve as notice of their transition from girls to young women.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Correspondent Lenny Ruvaga reported this story from Oloitoktok, Kenya. It was adapted for Learning English by Christopher Jones-Cruise. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

alternative n. not usual or traditional

rite n. an act that is part of a usually religious ceremony

circumcision n. the act of to cut off the clitoris or outer sexual organs of woman or girl

elder n. a person who has authority because of age and experience

embrace v. to accept (something or someone) readily or gladly