For many Kenyan communities, circumcision, a right of passage for boys into adulthood, is a sacred tradition. Those who fail to undergo the rite of passage are always considered outcasts. In Laikipia County, things have changed for the worse in the last several years, with many boys now skipping this vital part of life.
This is mainly because of poverty that has been caused by the severe drought and harsh economic times. This process was usually done the traditional way until a few years ago when most parents started preferring to take their children to hospital for the cut. Circumcision in a private hospital costs about Sh4,500, which most parents can no longer afford due to the harsh economic times.
The procedure is, however, free in public hospitals, but there are costs associated with it, such as feeding the patient as well as other medical expenses. For residents of Kang'a village in Laikipia West, their sons have skipped the rite of passage for several years. The affected Kang’as are Kang’a ya Mùríithi, Kang’a ya Alice, Kang’a ya Mukindu, Kang’a ya Turkana, Kang’a ya Robert and Kang’a ya Vietnam.
Jane Njoki, a resident of the area says it is sad that families cannot take their sons for circumcision due to poverty. She said many families cannot afford basic needs, resulting in an increase in crime in the village.
"The cases are complicated more as the boys join secondary school. They are normally excluded by their colleagues in various learning activities because they are seen as children not fit to interact with adults," says Ms Njoki.
In a neighbouring school, over 20 students in Form one and two have not undergone the cut. "This is affecting their learning. They are seen as outcasts," says the school principal, who did not want to be named for fear of stigmatizing the students even further.
Njoki now calls on the county and national governments to offer some part of the forest surrounding the areas to affected families to cultivate crops to fight hunger. "Once we solve the poverty issue, this stigma and crime will be a thing of the past. Let everyone get on board so that we can help our children," she says.
She says the residents are suffering from diseases related to poverty and depression since they feel they have been neglected by the community at large. Njoki also urged the county government to set up one hospital in the area specifically for circumcising all those who have reached the right age for the procedure.
Damaris Nduta, who has not been able to get her 17-year-old son circumcised said they are are undergoing a lot of challenges. She says her children have dropped out of school due to lack of fees.
Her 17-year-old son is also sick due to pressure from his agemates to undergo the cut. Governor Irungu's wife Wangari, who visited the village recently, said the matter is of great concern. "It is sad that our children are being subjected to this due to poverty. The county government will intervene," she said.