Female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) involves cutting or injuring girls’ genitals for reasons that are not medical. Over 200 million women alive today have experienced FGM/C, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. When child marriage and FGM/C happen together, they deeply affect girls’ physical, mental and sexual health.
“I choose education, not FGM.”
Cecilia is a new arrival at the House of Hope in Narok, Kenya.
“I escaped from home and I came to look for safety” she says. “If I go home now alone, I will be forced to [go] through FGM and obviously I will be married.”
In some communities, FGM/C is a rite of passage into adulthood: a girl is now a woman, ready to get married and have children. Some fear that “uncut” girls will dishonour their family by having sex before marriage or that they will become “clumsy” or “disobedient”.
But FGM/C seriously harms girls’ mental, physical and sexual health, and can even kill them. The House of Hope offers food, shelter and support for girls running away from child marriage/FGM/C.
“Our idea is to make sure that each one of the girls gets an opportunity to be what they hope to be.”
says Patrick Ngigi, founder of House of Hope.
For girls who are fleeing early marriage, the House of Hope may be their only chance to go to school. “Education gives them the chance and the power to say no."
They are also surrounded by other girls seeking a new life.
“I went through FGM at the age of nine” says Josephine, who ran away almost ten years ago. “My dad wanted to marry me off when I was twelve years old.”
Away from her family, she says “I realised that I [was] alone and fighting a battle that I [was] losing.” The House of Hope gives girls a community and a support network.
“We took her in” says Patrick Ngigi, “We stood strong. She also stood strong. We said she cannot get married.”
“Right now, I’m just happy” says Josephine, nine years later. She is now a lawyer.
“I’m starting to enjoy the fruits of my labour. I believe […] I’ll be in a better position to influence people […] especially the girls. Some of them are not aware of their rights."
"They have rights: to say no to FGM, to early marriage. They have the right to education. They should never give up."
In the time it has taken to read this article 27 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds