NAIROBI, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Vivian Koya is a 15-year-old Maasai girl living in Sekenai village in Narok county, near the famous Maasai Mara National Park Reserve in Kenya.
As she gazed at the open grassland of Maasai Mara which stretches far, the young girl's mind went back to the past, recalling something that happened four years ago which she would rather forget.
Vivian Koya, a 15-year-old Maasai girl who was circumcised at the age of 11 but was saved from early marriage,Sekenai village in Narok county, southwestern Kenya, April 16, 2016. (Xinhua/Han Qian)
"I was in 4th grade the day I came home for my holiday in August, my parents told me I would to be circumcised and married to a man of 45 years old. I was only 11 at that time," Vivian told Xinhua in a recent interview.
The circumcision was carried out in her family's shabby mud hut by some old ladies from the community.
Vivian was not the only victim of the painful practice as two of her elder sisters were circumcised at the same time.
"They used a razor blade. We were circumcised according to the age, they started with my sisters, they cried, I was the last one because I was the youngest. When I realized it was my turn, I screamed but could do nothing, after that I bled for two hours," Vivian recalled, with tears in her eyes.
The circumcision that Vivian underwent is known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia. FGM and early marriage has been outlawed in Kenya since 2011, however, in some Kenyan communities where tradition is firmly entrenched, the century-long practice is far from coming to an end.
In Kenya, about 28 percent of women aged 20 to 24 are circumcised between the ages of 5 and 9, according to Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014; it is also estimated that Kenya has one of the highest child marriage rate in the world which is up to 25 percent to 30 percent.
In Africa at large, FGM is practiced among certain communities in 29 countries, the statistics from the United Nations Population Funds show.
In these communities, FGM is a deeply rooted custom which marks a girl's initiation into womanhood and is kept as part of the cultural heritage.
"It hurt badly but it was a must," Vivian said, adding if she stood up to protest, she would be considered disobedient. The pressure from her parents muted her as well as her sisters, one of whom fainted after the circumcision and was sent to hospital.
In African communities where FGM is practiced, women who are not circumcised would be seen as "incomplete" and are often despised and alienated by the whole community.
FGM is closely linked to early marriage and could lead to health problems including severe bleeding, increased risk of HIV transmission and complications in childbirth; worse still, the psychological harms caused by the practice could become a life-long trauma to the girls.
For Maasai girls like Vivian, the destiny seems to be settled once they were born, there is no big value attached to them other than "being cut and given out to men for cows," said Esther Dapesh, Vivian's primary school teacher, who rescued her from being married off to the old guy.
Vivian talks with her parents, Sekenai village in Narok county, southwestern Kenya, April 16, 2016. (Xinhua/Han Qian)
"By the time I knew about Vivian's trouble, I felt bad enough that I couldn't stop the cutting. So I have to stop the marriage, but I could not go alone, because I knew it would become a fight, people were not ready to part with the tradition," Dapesh said.
Fighting against the traditional custom is not an easy task as the conflict with the parents of the girls could become risky and violent.
Dapesh, who has committed in rescuing her girl students since 2000, had many of such an experience.
"There was one time the parents came to our school and threatened to kill me with their spears," she said, revealing that in the eyes of Maasai people, she is a woman who challenges the tradition and a trouble maker.
To rescue Vivian, Dapesh sought help from Moses S Kasoe, an assistant chief of Sekenani Sub-Location in Narok County. Under the government's pressure and with the teacher's persuasion, Vivian's parents had finally given up the plan to marry her off.