The Associated Press, 14 December 2000

Kenyans: End Genital Mutilation

.c The Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - A leading women's law group in Kenya is pushing for a law banning female circumcision, saying this week's court ruling against the tradition is not enough.

``It is high time we had a law that clearly criminalizes the practice,'' Martha Koome, head of the Federation of Women Lawyers, said Thursday.

Koome spoke a day after Magistrate Daniel Ochenja issued a permanent injunction against farmer Pius Kandie to prevent him from forcing his 15-and-17-year-old daughters to undergo customary circumcision. The injunction handed down in Iten, a farming center 160 miles northwest of Nairobi, represents the first time a Kenyan court ruled against the forced circumcision of girls.

In his ruling, Ochenja also ordered Kandie to continue providing material and financial care for his daughters, who are both in secondary school, despite their defiance.

Koome said attorneys for the girls won the case not on the basis of law but because Ochenja had exercised his discretion. ``The outcome could have been different, depending on the magistrate or judge, because there is no clear law,'' she said.

Circumcision of boys and girls is widely practiced in Kenya as a rite of passage to adulthood and is not illegal. For girls, the practice can involve clipping or burning the clitoris and cutting the external genitals. Defenders of female circumcision argue that the practice is allowed under customary law.

Ken Wafula, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy, which took the case to court, said in a telephone interview that Ochenja based his ruling on the premise that female circumcision constitutes assault. Wafula said customary law, which is recognized in the Kenyan constitution, supersedes statutory law ``only when it is not repugnant to justice and morality.''

Wafula said Kandie told him he wanted the girls circumcised because he feared they might be returned home after marriage when their new husbands discovered they had not undergone the ritual. In such an event, Kandie would have to refund the dowry, which in Kenya is usually made up of cows, goats and sheep.

Koome said Kenya is signatory to several international conventions that call circumcision of girls female genital mutilation and define it as a human rights violation.

``Cutting a little girl is criminal,'' she said.

Some groups, among them the Kenya Family Planning Association, want to preserve the ritual connected with female circumcision. They favor a symbolic ceremony that involves no cutting of the female genitalia but does recognize the importance of the passage to womanhood.

AP-NY-12-14-00 0731EST

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.

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(File created 18 December 2000)

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