Kenyan Tribal war­riors join move­ment to end ‘bead­ing’ of girls for sex

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY TONNY ONYULO

SAMBURU, KENYA | In this re­mote, deeply tra­di­tional cor­ner of north-cen­tral Kenya, Faith Leku­panai sits on a stone, her baby en­sconced in her arms, rest­ing her tiny frame against the only tree stump on her home­stead and talk­ing about her child.

Miss Leku­panai, 14, has a baby as a re­sult of be­ing “beaded” — a com­mon prac­tice among the Samburu com­mu­nity liv­ing in this re­gion. In the semi-no­madic tribe’s tra­di­tion, a close fam­ily rel­a­tive will ap­proach a girl’s par­ents with red Samburu beads and place the neck­lace around the girl’s neck on be­half of a warrior from the tribe. When that hap­pens, the warrior can en­gage in sex­ual in­ter­course with the girl — some as young as 6 — even when the warrior does not in­tend to marry her.

“I was beaded when I was 7 years of age,” said Miss Leku­panai, who is col­or­fully dressed in a red shawl, bright beaded neck­laces and a head­dress. “I be­gan im­me­di­ately hav­ing sex with a warrior who was 15 years my se­nior. It was very painful, but you can’t refuse. Our cul­ture dic­tates such be­hav­ior.”

Now these girls are get­ting help from an un­ex­pected quar­ter: Ac­tivists led by some war­riors are step­ping up to de­mand an end to the tra­di­tion.

John Lead­ismo, a Maa­sai warrior, is lead­ing the fight against bead­ing.

“We can­not al­low this prac­tice to con­tinue hurt­ing our young girls as we watch,” he said. “Most of these girls are trau­ma­tized, and some end up dy­ing dur­ing the abor­tion pro­ce­dure.

“We will re­spect our cul­ture as Samburu peo­ple, but we are not go­ing to al­low cul­tural prac­tices [that hurt] our peo­ple to con­tinue,” he said.

Josephine Kulea, 30, has gained in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion for her ef­forts run­ning the Samburu Girls Foun­da­tion to curb the prac­tice of bead­ing. The foun­da­tion is cred­ited with help­ing over 1,000 girls in Kenya and other African coun­tries es­cape forced mar­riages.

The prac­tice “is dy­ing out around the cities be­cause more peo­ple there have em­braced ed­u­ca­tion,” she told the web­site News Deeply. “But there are a few other ar­eas where it is still very com­mon, and as much as we try to spread aware­ness that it’s wrong, peo­ple feel it’s still part of our cul­ture. Some girls feel it makes them beau­ti­ful be­cause some­one has given them these beads.”

Miss Leku­panai’s story is com­mon, and thou­sands of Samburu girls who are in­el­i­gi­ble to be mar­ried have been beaded in the dry heart­land of north­ern Kenya, 350 miles from the cap­i­tal, Nairobi.

It’s a para­dox: The in­tri­cately beaded neck­laces have be­come a vir­tual sym­bol of mod­ern Kenya, but they also have come to mean hard­ship and re­gret for many Samburu girls.

Af­ter a girl is beaded, her mother builds a small hut out­side their home where the male rel­a­tive or warrior vis­its the beaded girl to en­gage in sex­ual ac­tiv­ity at any time. The prac­tice is cher­ished, al­though preg­nancy as a re­sult is not.

“The sad thing with this prac­tice is that you are not al­lowed to get preg­nant, and yet there are no pre­ven­tive mea­sures,” said Miss Leku­panai. “How­ever, in the end, most girls get preg­nant and the prob­lems be­gin.”

Preg­nant girls are forced to abort in crude and makeshift ways be­cause ac­cess to health care is min­i­mal.

“I al­most died try­ing to abort three preg­nan­cies,” said Miss Leku­panai. “The fa­ther of these [aborted] ba­bies later aban­doned me and looked for an­other small girl, whom he then beaded.”

If the preg­nan­cies are car­ried to full term, the girls are forced to aban­don their ba­bies in the bush to be eaten by wild an­i­mals. A baby born out of wed­lock is an out­cast.

“I left my baby along the Ewaso Ng’iro river so that lions could eat it,” said 20-year-old Josper, who was 12 when she killed her child. “It hurts me a lot when I re­mem­ber what I did, but I was ad­vised by the el­ders to do it.”

In spite of the move­ment to end bead­ing, Samburu el­ders are fu­el­ing the prac­tice.

James Les­i­mate, 78, ar­gues that bead­ing has helped pre­vent promis­cu­ity among girls in the re­gion, a nar­ra­tive that is sup­ported by ev­ery el­der in the com­mu­nity.

“We need to re­spect and pro­tect our cul­ture,” he said. “There is no way we are go­ing to aban­don this prac­tice of bead­ing, be­cause it is part of us.”

Some women lament the prac­tice.

“I can’t give birth. I can’t bear a child,” said Joyce Le­natilia, who had two abor­tions by age 12. “I was told that I might have ter­mi­nated both preg­nan­cies with the use of strong herbs, and so I can’t give birth again.

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