December 15, 2023

Police officer stoned to death for rescuing FGM survivors  

Why Nigeria women must save their children from circumcision

A police officer has been killed in a confrontation with a gang of youths after rescuing some survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya.

The Guardian UK reports that activists and local leaders condemned the murder, calling it a backward step in the fight to eradicate the practice in the country.

Police in Elgeyo Marakwet county, in the Rift Valley region, had taken a group of girls who had been forced to undergo the illegal procedure to hospital when a mob of young men stormed a police station and stoned Cpl Mushote Boma to death.

“Angry youth raided the police post in a bid to get the girls, who had been rescued by police after they were genitally mutilated, where they overpowered the officer who was on duty and stoned him to death before burning his body using a mattress,” reported the government-owned Kenya news agency.

The six girls are recuperating at a local hospital, according to county police commander Peter Mulinge.

Female genital mutilation, or “the cut”, remains illegal in Kenya but is still being practised in some places, usually during school holidays, by women using crude methods and tools. There have been cases of activists being attacked by those carrying out FGM, but assaults on law enforcement officers are rare.

“It is shocking and disheartening that in the 21st century we can kill a police officer rescuing girls undergoing the inhumane act,” said Tony Mwebia, founder and executive director of the not-for-profit Men End FGM Foundation that aims to rally men and boys against FGM and child marriages.

“Were these men who killed the policeman aware of why they were protecting the backward culture? Do they have any idea of the harm caused by the cut?”

Mwebia, whose organisation has since trained nearly 500 male champions in counties where FGM exists, says men cringe when they are shown videos of the cut, a rite they traditionally believe is undertaken for their benefit.

“They are told the cut makes women more mature and avoid promiscuity. They are also told that they will lose any respect within the community by marrying an uncut woman. That is why they will kill anyone, including a policeman, who interferes with the cut,” Mwebia said.

Mwebia was attacked by another group of men in Kuria in December 2016 after he and a colleague were suspected of filming a street parade of girls undergoing the cut.

A local administrator, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said the attack on law enforcement officers will embolden.

“Killing a police officer in the name of FGM worries me,” he said. “We know FGM is illegal in Kenya, but just enforcing the law without adequate public sensitisation against the vice will have little success. There must be a robust conversation with local people if we are to stem the FGM tide in the region.”

According to The Nation newspaper, about 70 girls were rescued by the police, with Viola Cherono, a human rights activist from the region, reporting that as many as 500 girls had been assembling in the forest to undergo the practice.

A roadside pharmacy near Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Around the country, particularly in Kisii county, such buildings double as FGM clinics.

“Girls are being cut every day in the Endo and Embobut wards. The people in Embobut are very wild and if you are an activist or the police, they will come and get you,” she told the paper.

Bernadette Loloju, chief executive officer of the Anti-FGM Board in Kenya, said the killing was “an isolated incident beyond human thinking”, but that it should not be used to gauge the extent of the fight against the practice.

“Cases of FGM have come down in communities that were strongly for the cut, mainly because girls have come out to say no,” said Loloju.

“Although women are the perpetrators of the cut, we continue to engage the elders who are the cultural gatekeepers. These are the men who are shocked when they see videos of how FGM is done.”

Mwebia said the war against FGM will only be won if “we don’t waste resources in conferences but change our strategies”.

“There is political goodwill, right from the country’s top leadership. The silence from men will be the biggest barrier.”