16 Days: Escaping traditional practices in Kenya


During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.

Escaping traditional practices in Kenya

P is a young mother who was born in Kenya. She belongs to the Kikuyu tribe but her mother and sisters belong to a sect called the Mungiki. The sect are known as the mafia of Kenya and believed to be comprised of ethnic Kikuyu’s. Their doctrines are based on traditional practices, including female circumcision (also known as female genital mutilation, or FGM) which they have been accused of forcibly practicing on women. P’s two cousins had died during the procedure and she feared infection, so was not practicing circumcision herself. Being Christian, she also felt it went against her religious beliefs.

One night, a group from the sect broke into her house and attempted to circumcise P and her 9-year-old daughter. She escaped off the balcony and went into hiding. Her life became difficult after that as she did not have a permanent home and the sect was able to trace her because of her scholl-going children. After many months of being in hiding with her children, sect members found her and burnt down the shack that she was living in. She escaped to South Africa with her children where she applied for asylum.

The Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO) who interviewed P rejected her application for asylum, stating that FGM was only practiced amongst young unmarried women and that P was old and married. The officer told her that P did not have a well-founded fear of persecution because the cultural practice had been banned in Kenya.

In 2008, the United Nations recognised FGM as a human rights violation. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recognises FGM as a harmful traditional practice and has called for its end. In 2011, Kenya enacted the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act. Although it is difficult to find recent research reports on the prevalence of FGM in Kenya since its criminalisation, indications are that the practice has been reduced and that incidences of FGM are decreasing overall. However, FGM is practiced differently and to varying degrees according to tribe and religion. The World Health Organisation recognises 4 types of FMG and studies show that there is a 27% prevalence rate in Kenya.

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The Legal Resources Centre is a public interest law clinic established in South Africa in 1979

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