Reporter's Notebook: Female Circumcision in Africa

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Then it was time. I asked the chief if I could go into the hut without a camera. I wanted to see the actual procedure so I could accurately report what occurred inside.

Before coming to this region, I was told by an American anthropologist—who had witnessed the actual procedure—that the Masai they don't always cut off the external genitalia during the circumcision. Sometimes it's simply a nick or a scratch.

But I wanted to know what procedure this particular tribe practiced, and what specifically would happen to Jen.

I approached the hut where the cutting took place. Little girls and a few women surrounded the door.

When it was Jen's turn she told me, No, you can't go in THERE.

She entered the hut and soon we heard screams. I stood outside and recorded the wails coming from the window. Her cries of pain were beyond disturbing. The degree of cutting depends on the tribe and place, but because Jen would not let me in the hut while she was being cut, I didn't know what she experienced and how much of her genitalia was removed.

Hours later, I visited Jen who was still writhing in pain. She clearly didn't want me around, so I let her rest.

That afternoon I drove a couple of hours to the town of Kilgoris to talk to a headmistress of a girl's school that has a program specifically designed for girls who do not want to be circumcised. Rosemary Mesoppir, a circumcised Masai woman, is one of a vociferous minority who is attempting to make education a focus for young girls in this rural area. She teaches her students that there are ways other than circumcision to mark their initiation into womanhood.

Often described as a "circumcision by words," Rosemary said she teaches the girls about the grave risks of the traditional practice. She stresses the importance of continuing their education. She teaches them self-respect and hopes the girls have the confidence to decide for themselves whether they want to be circumcised.

As I completed an interview with a group of students, a woman ran into the school to tell Rosemary that a young girl had just been brought into the hospital down the street suffering from tetanus as a result of circumcision—a reminder of the prevalence of the practice and its possible dire consequences.

On December 13, four days after Jen's ceremony, President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya outlawed female genital mutilation, but out here in the Kenyan countryside, people doubt he will be able to enforce the ban. Already parents are circumcising girls at a younger age to avoid government intervention and potential defiance from the girls themselves. But others, like Rosemary Mesoppir, hope the ban will at least inspire people to begin questioning the reason for preserving this kind of tradition.

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