350 young girls forgo FGM in Samburu County, Kenya; U.S. and Dutch Ambassadors witness Alternative Rites of Passage Ceremony

Alternative Rites of Passage for young Kenyan girls in place of Female Genital Mutilation

December 19, 2016 – Nairobi – In early December, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec and his Dutch counterpart, Frans Makken, witnessed over 350 girls from Samburu County in Kenya participate in Alternative Rites of Passage in place of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM, also known as Female Genital Cutting). 

The event was organized by Amref Health Africa and the Samburu community in Wamba. Traditionally, the initiation of Samburu girls into adulthood includes FGM, but Alternative Rites of Passage ensures that the girls are welcomed as adults in their community without the harmful cut.  Alternative Rites of Passage replaces the act of FGM with two or three days of sexual and reproductive health knowledge and encouragement to finish their education, as well as end child marriage. 

Ambassador Godec said the American government is a strong partner for Kenya in health and education, particularly regarding the welfare of young girls and women. 

“FGM is violence against girls,” Ambassador Godec declared. “The time has come to end it.”

The ceremony was preceded by a candle-lighting event on the previous night, where the girls, clothed in traditional regalia, showcased their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health issues. Tina Lemeriwa, 15, was given the role of ARP ambassador in the community.

“The Alternative Rites of Passage ceremony seeks to celebrate and preserve the rich Samburu cultural process of girls becoming women,” said Dr. Meshack Ndirangu, Amref Health Africa’s Country Director for Kenya. “But what we advocate is that girls go through this process without circumcision, and that they get an opportunity to go to school and to grow up before they get married.” 

Ambassador Makken from the Netherlands said that the efforts to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) must be sustained even after the Alternative Rites of Passage ceremony, and encouraged the girls and the community to be strong and resolute.

“After the ceremony you have to stay courageous and firm. There will still be pressures. Please don’t cut the future away, don’t cut the education away,” Ambassador Makken stressed.

Also present at the ceremony were Kenya’s National Anti-FGM Board chairperson Jebii Kilimo, Amref Health Africa in Kenya Board Chair Eunice Mathu, and Samburu East MP Raphael Letimalo.

The Alternative Rites of Passage Program has graduated close to 11,000 girls in Kajiado and Samburu Districts since 2013. Run by Amref Health Africa, the program is funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery and run in partnership with the Ministries of Health and Education.