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Woman ponders ending marriage to escape FGM as demanded by her in-laws


A mother of two from Muthenge village in Tharaka-Nithi County is contemplating ending her six-year-old marriage to escape the ‘cut’ as demanded by her in-laws.

Janice Keeru, 38, says despite her husband and in-laws being summoned by Mitheru chief Robert Murithi and warning them against the outdated cultural practice, the family is still insisting that she must undergo the rite of passage together with her 14-year-old daughter, who is in Form One.

The chief told this publication that after the woman reported the matter to him, he summoned both her husband and the parents and warned them against female genital mutilation.

He said the woman also reported the matter to Chuka Police Station and the criminal investigation department took over the issue.

“I warned the family against forcing the woman to be circumcised and they promised to stop, so, I am not aware if they still insist,” said Mr Murithi.

The chief said the family was known in the village of circumcising young girls and women married in the family there arguing that their religious beliefs demand so.

“It is not the whole village that practices FGM, but that one family basing it on their religion,” he said.

CIRCUMCISION CLAIMS

Contacted, the husband Timothy Njagi confirmed that there was a discord between his parents and the wife but denied the circumcision claims.

He said the family stopped the “cut” issue long time ago and accused the wife of not respecting his parents.

“No one is forcing her to undergo the ‘cut’ as she claims,” said Mr Njagi.

However, Keeru said trouble started two years ago after they relocated to the village from Chuka town with her husband where they had lived for about four years since their marriage.

She said few weeks after settling at the village in Maara constituency, the in-laws demanded to know if she was circumcised and tasked her sisters-in-law and wives of her brother-in-laws to find out after her husband refused to cooperate.

“My sisters-in-law used to peep into my house while am inside hoping to see if I’m circumcised or not,” said Keeru.

She said after she was tired of hiding and being under scrutiny by all the family members, she opted to reveal her status and stood firm that she was not ready to undergo the ‘cut’.

STIGMA

Keeru said when she opened up, all the family members except the husband isolated her and could not even greet her or even enter her house.

She claimed that her husband had a first wife who reportedly left after she declined to be circumcised.

“I used to give my father and the mother in law food but from the day they realized that I am not circumcised, they stopped eating anything from me arguing that it smelled

‘Muthera’ a derogatory termed used locally to refer to an uncircumcised woman,” she said.

She said they also forced her husband to put up a fence to separate their house with the rest of the homestead arguing that they could not live with an uncircumcised woman.

Keeru said all this time, her husband, Mr Njagi, who is a bodaboda operator in Chuka town remained silent and confused on whether to support her or his family.

However, after realizing that the rift between her and the other family members was widening day by day and that the row continued to escalate, her husband pleaded with her to undergo the cut for the sake of family unity.

HUSBAND’S PLEA

“It was after I also declined to heed to my husband’s plea that he also started assaulting me and could sometimes stay away from home for some days.

I remember him threatening to mobilise other bodaboda operators to get hold of me so that I could be forcefully circumcised,” she said.

Keeru recounted how the in laws planned to have her daughter secretly circumcised after she sat for the 2018 KCPE examination but fortunately the plot leaked and she hid her.

According to a 2019 report by Plan International, about 47 percent of girls below age 18 years were last year circumcised in Tharaka and Igambang’ombe areas of the county.

The report also showed that married women especially those from other communities that do not practise FGM are forced into FGM before they are accepted in the new families.

In November last year three, two women from Tharaka and one from Igambang’ombe were jailed for seven years each for forcing their primary school going daughters to undergo the ‘cut’.