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Tough war in fight against FGM in Meru

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By ALEX NJERU
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By DAVID MUCHUI
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Despite sustained efforts to eradicate female circumcision among the Ameru, the vice remains rooted in parts of Meru and Tharaka-Nithi counties.

In the last one month, at least 10 girls aged between 12 and 17 years from Tharaka South and Igambang’ombe sub-counties have been rescued by police after undergoing circumcision.

In some instances, newly married women are forced by their mothers-in-law to undergo the cut “so as to fit in the community”.

In Meru, a 14-year-old girl from Kathelwa in Igembe Central died of excessive bleeding after circumcision on Sunday.

On Monday, a 20-year-old woman was rushed to hospital after being circumcised in Amwathi, Igembe North. The circumciser is in police custody.

According to Mr Kithela Kubai, an anti-FGM crusader in Igembe Central, about 12 girls are believed to have undergone the cut this month.

“We have submitted a list of seven families believed to have cut their girls to the authorities,” Mr Kubai said.

In Tharaka-Nithi, two women from Uturini in Tharaka South were jailed for seven years each by a Marimanti court while a woman from Kamwimbi was sentenced to six years by a Chuka court for forcing her girls to undergo the cut.

Four girls rescued in Tharaka are receiving treatment and counselling at a Plan International’s children protection unit at Marimanti Police Station while two from Igambang’ombe are at Tumaini Children’s Home in Chuka.

While some of these cases have come to the limelight, many are secretly circumcised and hidden without trace despite increased surveillance by members of Nyumba Kumi.

Igembe Central Deputy County Commissioner Josiah Odongo said they have received several reports from the public with one turning out to be false while eight women were found to have been circumcised last year.

“A case where a woman was mutilated in August became complicated after the victim admitted to have done it willingly. We are calling for increased vigilance among residents because FGM is highly secretive. A medical check-up on eight suspected to have undergone FGM this month indicated it was done a year ago,” he said.

Mr Odongo noted that the girl who died had travelled to her relatives in Igembe North where she underwent the cut before returning home.

Plan International’s anti-FGM programme coordinator in Tharaka Faith Mpara notes that the vice is practiced with high secrecy, enabling the perpetrators to evade detection.

“Those who are circumcised at home remain indoors all the time and in case the parents learn that administrators may have a clue, the girls are asked to painfully sit down outside and are given a basketful of millet which they pretend to be sorting the entire day,” said Ms Mpara.

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Circumcisers have also mastered the art of disguise and camouflage while in their business.

Despite a sustained campaign that includes alternative rites of passage in Igembe and Tharaka, illiteracy is blamed for the unending outdated practice.

Plan International’s programme implementation manager Charles Muriu cites deeply rooted traditional beliefs as a major impendent in fight against female circumcision.

The perception in some areas that uncircumcised girls are immoral and that they cannot be good wives has been fuelling the spread of the practice.

“Some newly married women especially from communities that do not practice FGM are forced to undergo the cut by the mothers-in-law and other women in the village before they are accepted,” said Mr Muriu.

In some areas, uncircumcised women are barred from taking part in communal activities, forcing some to bow to pressure due to stigma.

But Mr Kubai cites corruption among chiefs in Igembe as one of the causes of rampant cases of FGM (female genital mutilation).

“When some chiefs learn that someone’s daughter has undergone FGM, they go there to collect bribes rather than arrest the suspects. In some cases, some chiefs have advised suspects on how to hide the girls. There are chiefs whose daughters have also been cut,” he lamented.

However, sustained campaigns in Tharaka have seen several FGM practitioners abandon the vice.

Plan International is supporting 18 reformed circumcisers, aged between 60 and 80, in adopting alternative sources of income.

They are now learning how to make bracelets and sandals from old car tires and baskets for sale at Marimanti Methodist Guest House.

Ms Fides Gachue from Kajuki village in Igambang’ombe who practised FGM for more than 20 years said she used to earn at least Sh20,000 and about 20 goats per week.

“I have known the disadvantages of FGM and though I used to make a lot of money, I will never go back to doing it. I used to charge Sh2,000 for every girl and after the practice was outlawed, the fee went up to Sh3,000 because of the risks involved. But I decided to quit,” said Ms Gachue.

The reformed circumcisers now plan to help spread the anti-FGM campaign across in the region.

The NGO is also working with 42 Njuri Ncheke elders, 40 girls and 40 boys from every location in Tharaka and Igambang’ombe to fight the vice.

The war on FGM in Meru and Tharaka-Nithi dates back to late 1950s when the colonial government and Njuri Ncheke outlawed the practice.

But the ban faced resistance in the 1960s when some girls vowed to circumcise themselves, leading to the naming of the rebellious age group as “Ngaitaana” (I will circumcise myself).

Since early 2000, the Methodist and Catholic churches have been conducting alternative rites of passage for teenage girls in a bid to end FGM.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014 indicated that 31 percent of women in Meru aged between 15 and 49 had undergone FGM.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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