FGM Act silent on how to deal with those profiteering from the illegal practice
Somali women join in traditional songs that precede female circumcision ceremonies to glorify female cut besides praising the circumcisers for offering the service to the community.
“I had stopped circumcising women in 1999 after encountering many challenges but I went back to the business in 2003. During this time, there were so many people who were in need of the services I used to offer and the money was good,” says the 72 year old Qali Hassan in Dadaab village, Northern Kenya.
Hassan who has been engaged in the business over the last 32 years was forced out of business in 1999 by the erratic demand that saw her only busy three times in a year when schools in the Dadaab village closed for holidays.
She says this was worsened by the dwindling numbers of girls brought in for circumcision due to the relentless awareness campaigns against the practice waged by local civil society organisations and religious leaders in Garissa County, Northern Kenya where Dadaab village is located.
Hassan fondly recalls that when the practice was lucrative, she would make good money to support her family in Dadaab village. She notes that these sacred cultural services were also meant to appease the community’s ancestors.
“I used to make good money during the school holidays when the girls would be brought in large numbers. Every month I would circumcise 300 girls and each would pay KSh1,000,” says Hassan. She adds: “At the end of every school holiday, I would be assured of KSh200,000.”
Hassan would use the money to buy to goats and support her grandchildren.
During the peak season, she says the figure would increase to about KSh600,000 as her services were highly sought by villagers in Dadaab which has a population of 200,000 people and other neighbouring villages.
She was very popular because she handled the girls with so much care during the procedure.
“I used the money to build myself a house and buy livestock and by 2011, I had 1,000 heads of goats and ten donkeys which offered transport services to local communities at a fee. However, the prolonged drought of 2012 decimated my livestock and I now have only 50 goats and ten donkeys which continue to offer transport services,” explains Hassan.
During this period she became the laughing stock as villagers said that the ancestors were punishing her for abandoning the female cut.
In 2003, she bounced back to the old trade after being lured to the business by a new niche of customers from the Diaspora who were trooping into the area in search of her services.
“These customers have transformed my business and the reward is enticing. I make very good money each week as opposed to the past when I would register big numbers during school holidays,” says Hassan. She adds: “The proceeds then go towards restocking and building block houses for my daughters and sons. I have also purchased donkey carts to expand my donkey transport business.”
Hassan’s charges range from between KSh20,000 to KSh30,000 per person. She handles not less than 10 girls per week. Her customers come from a well-knit cartel that organises FGM services for Somali migrant community visiting Nairobi.
Hassan uses a solar powered mobile phone to get instructions and business deals from the Nairobi based ring of travel agents, drivers and fixers scattered in almost all villages of Northern Kenya. She is among few using a mobile phone in the remote village, a situation that places one on a high status.
Hassan has attended to hundreds if not thousands of girls brought in from abroad to face the cut in her circumcision den. She does know the exact number as she hardly keeps records of her customers.
She plans to use the proceeds from the lucrative business to open a modern circumcision clinic with beds for recuperation, a theatre room for performing circumcision, waiting area for group of girls waiting to undergo the cut and sanitation block.
Locals intimate that the traditional surgeon has made millions of shillings from the trade since she bounced back to her trade in 2003. However, Hassan is not free to discuss the millions she has made though she is linked to properties in Dadaab area and her dream of setting up modern genital cutting clinic.
Legal experts and practitioners in Northern Kenya state that anti–Female Genital Mutilation law must be amended and a clause included to forfeit all movable and immovable assets made by the circumcisers.
According to Adan Garad, Executive Director Wagalla Centre for Peace and Human Rights, the trade has produced millionaire circumcisers besides allowing other players to make multi-million shilling profits.
“International FGM has produced millionaires in Northern Kenya and they are acquiring four wheel drive vehicles, building posh houses in remote villages, using flashy solar phones and buying hundreds of livestock.
The law as it stands, is silent on forfeiting properties and proceeds made by the circumcisers and something needs to be done so that they can be stripped of ill-gotten wealth and status in the society,” notes Garad.
The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011, passed by Kenyan parliament states that it is an offence to practice FGM, procure the services of a circumciser or send somebody out of or bring them into the country to undergo the illegal cut but it’s silent on wealth generated from the outlawed trade..