Wed | Dec 1, 2021

Court refuses to allow female genital mutilation

Published:Thursday | March 18, 2021 | 12:14 AM


A Kenyan court on Wednesday refused to allow female circumcision for consenting adults, saying that unlike the male cut, it does not have health benefits and actually reduces the well-being of the woman it’s performed on, and, in some instances, can lead to death.

The ruling by the three high court justices against the petition filed by Dr Tatu Kamau said evidence presented showed women in the communities that practise female circumcision, widely referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) due to its adverse effects, don’t have a choice.

Kamau had argued that many women want to undergo circumcision but the law prevents them.

“We are not persuaded that one can choose to undergo a harmful practice. From the medical and anecdotal evidence presented by the respondents, we find that limiting this right is reasonable in an open and democratic society, based on the dignity of women,” Justices Lydia Achode, Kanyi Kimono and Margaret Muigai said in their ruling.

Kenya’s Female Genital Mutilation Act, passed in 2011, states that anyone found guilty of the practice could be sentenced to at least three years in jail or pay a fine of $1,800.

Kamau intends to appeal the judgment, her representative said after the ruling.


“Generally for me, I am disappointed. I feel that the rights of women have been subsumed in those of a child,” she said. She had sued the attorney general and Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Board.

Female genital mutilation is a deeply rooted practice in some communities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where it is traditionally seen as a way of curbing female sexual desire so as to reinforce conservative behaviour. Anaesthetics and antiseptics are generally not used unless the procedure is carried out by doctors.

Female circumcision can affect sexual intercourse and lead to problems with childbirth. In some cases, HIV is spread via the tools used, and excessive bleeding or badly done procedures can lead to death.

“Today is a great day for the women who live in these communities that practise female genital mutilation,” said lawyer Ken Mbaabu, who is a board member of Samburu Girls Foundation, a group that has been fighting the practice that they say leads to early marriages.

The court ruling upholds the rights of women to make their own decisions about their bodies, he said.

While the argument of giving adults consent may seem logical, Mbaabu said, in the communities that perform the cut, a girl is considered an adult when she starts her menstrual cycle, from around 12 years.

“If the ruling had allowed consenting female adults to undergo the procedure, it would have been misconstrued by communities that practise FGM who consider a woman as someone who has breasts, period and can have kids, not the 18 years allowed by law,” he said.

According to Mbaabu, after getting their first period the girls are quickly married off, often to much older men.