Pleading not guilty to female genital mutilation (FGM) in a Kenyan courtroom on Monday, Maasai couple Jackson Lesale Lanoi and Eunice Sintana Lesale refused to take responsibility for the death of 13-year-old Raima Ntgusa, who was the victim of FGM, reports the Guardian.
On April 13th, Ntgusa reportedly underwent FGM south of Nairobi in Kajiado county. According to published reports, the procedure “went wrong,” resulting in the Mother of a 4-month-old to die in a pool of blood.
The Lanois have been held in custody since April 15th, after being denied bail, and were charged with aiding and abetting FGM, which has been illegal in the country since 2001. Still, on court day, “dozens” of friends and family were said to gather outside of the courtroom in support as Eunice nursed Ntagusa’s baby.
When interviewed, an unidentified Maasai man added, “We have been practising female circumcision since time immemorial. This is just one of the rare cases where somebody has died from the rite. There is nothing criminal about it.”
And in fact, crowds of Maasai women marched on behalf of the Lanois and FGM on Monday.
“A day earlier in Kajiado – the same part of rural Kenya where Ntagusa died – scores of Masai women marched in support of FGM, saying it was part of their culture and the government should allow the practice. The demonstration reportedly descended into violent scuffles in which three journalists and at least one local representative were injured. Accounts by the journalists involved suggest the protesters accused them and the officials of being part of the government’s fight against FGM.”
But these days, the “traditional” argument for FGM isn’t enough.
Recently, 270 girls from the same county refused to be cut as a part of their rites of passage, with Kenyan First Lady Margaret Kenyatta adding that she wants her nation to “achieve a zero FGM status.”
“You are a testimony that culture is dynamic and that communities need to embrace and retain what is good while doing away with retrogressive parts,” she said, addressing the girls participating in the ceremony. “Let us all declare today that FGM is not necessary in the 21st century.”
Additionally, anti-FGM activists, such as Wanjala Wafula, say it is important to prosecute these cases in order for people to become aware that FGM is no longer acceptable, “We hope that this [case] will be a pacesetter for future prosecutions. The relationship between the director of public prosecutions and civil society is more collaborative now.”
Since more and more people are becoming aware of the consequences of participating in FGM, Wafula said that the practice is increasingly going underground, with some performing FGM on girls and women right after they give birth in order to avoid detection.