Somali migrant families living in developed world have stuck to their cultural beliefs that every girl should undergo the cut as a rite of passage, family honour, controlling sexuality and ethnic identity.
Strict laws prohibiting female cut in developed nations have forced parents to look for extreme options such as airlifting their young girls to the Northern Kenya town of Garissa to face the cut.
The journey to female infibulation starts with a flight from western countries like Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, USA, Canada and Australia.
On reaching Nairobi, the families consult women who specialise in advising their clients on the preferred traditional circumcisers and female cut villages.
The consultants offer their clients orientation on the preferred villages, procedures to follow, travel timetable to the female cut villages, booking of traditional appointment with the circumcisers and offering cultural orientation on second generation Somali families from developed world, while first generation families are given some cultural recap and rehearsal.
The culturally inclined families leave Nairobi to Garissa where they are received by agents of the Nairobi based consultants who then prepare them for another gruelling journey through the dry remote areas to distant villages along Kenya-Somalia border.
In the preferred villages, traditional circumcisers perform a ceremony that lasts three days and circumcision songs are sang one day prior to the mutilation.
The cut starts in the wee hours of the morning and a group of hawk-eyed women join the circumcisers in wrestling young girls brought to the circumcision hut.
Circumcisers use crude objects in chopping the clitoris and stitching raw surface in the genitalia. A small hole is left for urine to pass through and the rest is covered by stitches and traditional herbs that make thecircumcised girls to be stationery in one position and one central place for one and a half month for the wound to heal.
Halima Abdi, a leading Nairobi based consultant specialising in advising visiting migrant families on procedures, logistics and house-keeping issues is busy in her office when we catch up with her as she was attending to a group of migrant families from Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Abdi was attending to ten families in her dingy office located in the Eastleigh suburbs, Nairobi and migrant families and the young girls from developed world were upbeat and discussing in loud tones oblivious of the danger ahead.
In an interview with Kenyan Woman, Abdi talks bravely about her work and how she has facilitated hundreds of girls from developed world in facing the knife.
“I started this work way back in 2000 and so far I have offered consultancy services to hundreds of migrant families from abroad. My customers are of Somali origin and they come from various countries in Europe, America and Australia,’’ explains Abdi who was introduced to this work by a cartel of Nairobi based human traffickers.
Abdi is no stranger to families seeking the services from the developed world as her contacts are widely circulated to those who want to bring their daughters for FGM vacation.
“I receive many calls from parents based in the developed countries who want me to arrange for them international FGM tourism package and I charge them between $1000 and $2,000 based on the number of girls they want to bring as well as the FGM village they choose from among ten located in northern Kenya area,” explains Abdi.
These parents also pay travel agents a separate fee for transport within Nairobi and to northern Kenya as well as another fee for the traditional circumciser who charges $200 per girl and another $300 for accommodation in the remote villages while the girls nurse their wounds.
According to Abdi, the FGM tourism vacation starts in her office as she commands retinue of traditional circumcisers in various villages and travel agents. She also has a list of compromised security and immigration officials based at the Garissa entry point who normally check travel papers for international visitors and identification card for Kenyan citizens entering the town.
“It is a risky business and that is the first information given to Somali migrant parents when they visit my office,” says Abdi. She adds: “However, they normally tell me they are ready to pay anything to mitigate the risk and ensure their daughters undergo the rite of passage.”
Families undergo orientation in Abdi’s office. The first session is attended only by the parents who are informed of challenges and that they will bear all the risk and consequences that will result from the act.
The second orientation is attended by both parents and daughters. Most of the young girls from developed countries seem upbeat and look forward to undergoing their “Somali cultural rites” which they are informed is simple, easy and will make them touch base with their culture and identity.
According to Abdi, most parents want their daughters to face the knife as for fear that they could resort to prostitution and become unruly in major cities of the developed world.
However, others feel that their daughters should undergo the rite because their mothers also went the same back before seeking asylum.
“Female circumcision within Somali community is as old as our culture and it is inculcated in our values. The rite is observed to see transition of a Somali girl from childhood to adulthood and those who refuse to undergo the cut are regarded as children despite their age,” explains Abdi. She adds: “Those who do not undergo the cut are not eligible for marriage and will be ostracised.”
These beliefs and values are still present and valued by Somalis in Africa and the developed world. The rite is regarded as a great family honour and she sees no problem in facilitating the cut which is the main source of her livelihood.
“Personally I have undergone female cut and I have administered the same to my daughters. My granddaughters too will go through it and that is why I am facilitating female cut in northern Kenya,” says Abdi.
She argues: “I want Somali girls in Kenya and those from the developed countries to be clean since girls who have not undergone FGM are regarded as dirty and lack confidence.”
Cleanliness is one of the factors cited by Somali migrant families for their daughters to face knife.
This article was originally published in the kenyan Woman Issue 46