The Issue

Girls and boys in northwest Kenya—like children around the world have big dreams. Their potential is often cut short by harmful practices and lack of attention and resources for their safety and education. Many girls painfully undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), then become child brides and child mothers. Communities are sometimes ill-equipped to prevent child abuse or help child survivors. Girls are denied the education they need to build promising futures because they do not have quality, child-friendly schools. The problems are significant, but we are deeply committed to help solve them. With the Kenya Child Protection Project, we are tackling FGM, child marriage, and school needs—creating opportunities for girls and boys to reach their full potential and live out their dreams.

What Is FGM?

Female genital mutilation or FGM—which girls typically go through just before puberty or during early adolescence—involves removal of part or the whole of the external female genitalia. It is shocking, but in many cultures, it symbolizes the transition from girlhood to womanhood and is a common traditional practice.  It has devastating physical and psychological effects on girls.  These include recurring infections that can affect the bladder and kidneys, chronic pelvic and back pain, incontinence, complications at birth, and emotional suffering.

Globally, 125 million girls and women have experienced FGM. 1

In Kenya, 27 percent of women ages 15 to 49 have undergone FGM. 2

The Context for Our Work

Traditional cultural practices are deeply rooted in the communities of northwest Kenya. FGM and child marriage, sometimes as early as age 7, pose serious risks to children and their futures. World Vision considers FGM and child marriage to be significant violations of a child’s rights. Although both practices are illegal in Kenya, they continue—with some communities unaware of the laws against them. In rural areas, informal justice structures frequently carry more weight than formal legal structures, meaning tribal and community leaders often are responsible for overseeing how practices are governed. It is vital for us to partner with these leaders to change traditional views and behavior.

Child Marriage

To marry legally in Kenya, both males and females must be 18 or older. However, 26 percent of women ages 18 to 24 were married prior to age 18 (The State of the World’s Children, 2015). Given the prevalence of underage marriage, local police can be hesitant to enforce the law against it. When birth registration is lacking, even if police attempt to hold parents accountable for brokering a child marriage, there may be no legal documentation confirming the child is underage.

FGM and Marriage

FGM can expedite marriage because once a girl has undergone the cutting, her family may force her to marry. It also can be a prerequisite to marrying, with the husband’s family wanting the girl to undergo FGM. For this reason, it is important that entire communities have changed attitudes—not only the parents of girls. A daughter marrying can lessen a household’s economic burden and provide an immediate benefit in the form of gifts, such as cattle, that the family receives in exchange for the girl. This contributes to parents—especially those immersed in poverty—marrying off their daughters at a young age.

Benefits of Educating Girls

Many girls leave school after undergoing FGM, and those who return often do not stay to finish. Girls are far less likely to continue in school once married, because additional education typically is seen as an unnecessary investment of both a girl’s life and a family’s financial resources. Girls who marry leave school to tend to household responsibilies. The consequences of quitting school are significant, because the girls and their families are denied the benefits of an education.

Education & FGM Facts

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