The Samburu are a primarily pastoralist people that have lived in the arid and remote part of northern Kenya for centuries. They practice and uphold their cultural identity and traditions with high esteem and their culture has been vibrant and resilient even as Kenya has transitioned from a pre-colonial to postcolonial modern society. Many aspects of Samburu life have remained largely unchanged.
Part of their culture is to divide females into age groups: girls, married women, and elder women. Samburu girls are responsible for assisting the family with caring for livestock and for assisting their mother with her duties in the family home. The girls undergo circumcision (FGM) in their teenage years to prepare them for marriage. An uncircumcised woman is still considered a child and is not eligible for marriage.
Samburu people live in clan-based villages, and women accordingly marry outside their home village. Polygamy is also commonly practiced as well as bride price, which involves the transfer of livestock and other wealth from the man who wishes to marry to a girl’s family. Once married, a Samburu woman is responsible for building and maintaining the family home (called a manyatta), caring for children, gathering fuel and providing daily meals and water for her family.
Beads play a large part in Samburu culture. They are considered essential aspects of adornment for both young men (morans) and women. Different bead colours and patterns have specific significance for the Samburu. For example, red depicts bravery, strength and unity, and black recognises the people and the hardships they endure as pastoralists on the high plains. Beads convey wealth and beauty for Samburu girls and families often expend significant resources on beads for their girl-children.
Girl-child beading is a practice in which morans give special beads to an uncircumcised girl at the commencement of a sexual relationship. Girls may be as young as nine years old when they are beaded. The process begins with negotiations between the moran and the girl’s mother, as well as the girl’s brothers, who often are also morans. Once the relationship is agreed, the girl’s mother builds a hut for the couple, called a ‘singira’, where the moran will have access to the girl for sex. During the process of beading the moran brings large quantities of beads as well as other goods to the girl as a way of appeasing her. Because these relationships take place within clans, the process generally does not lead to marriage and pregnancy is forbidden. The uncircumcised girls are still considered children themselves and thus it is a taboo for them to give birth. However, when pregnancies do result, beaded girls may be forced to have a traditional abortion, to give up the new born for infanticide or for adoption into another ethnic community. Some girls are beaded at a very young age, even as young as three or four, and the morans wait for them to grow older before beginning a sexual relationship.
What is the problem?
Much of the practice is violence against girls and has major health and human rights issues. In the context of sexual and reproductive Health(SRH), gender-based violence(GBV) has been linked to risks of unwanted teenage pregnancies, pregnancy complications leading to high mortality rates, gynaecological disorders, unsafe abortions, fistula and sexually transmitted infections including the deadly HIV/AIDS.
Coupled with this, the community suffers from having low literacy levels, drugs and substance abuse, an absence of health centres that can provide sexual and reproductive health services, and traditional/cultural resistance to providing adolescents with reproductive health and rights. The practice leads to:
i. Interrupted education
ii. Making children unequal because beaded girls don’t get the chance to go to school.
iii. Physical violence in beading relationships e.g. beatings and rape
iv. Forced abortion and infanticide
v. Other harmful practices like FGM and child marriages
vi. Psychological trauma
What does One More Day for Children do?
One More Day for Children Foundation have been working within these communities for the past 9 years to try and change the narrative through both curative and reactive programs. It has established a safe House for girls who are the survivors of these practices in Doldol town, in Laikipia North Constituency, on 13 acres of land donated by the Kenya Government. Teenage girls who fall pregnant as a result of beading and are facing the threat of crude abortion have found shelter at the Safe House.
The Girls`Safe House in Doldol is completely reliant on charitable donations to be able to operate. We cannot thank the government enough for donating to this foundation 11 acres of land in Doldol to put up the Safe house. Through financial help from well wishers and partners who share our vision, we have been able to build 3 new dormitories, one being a baby’s wing for those saved from crude abortions, been abandoned or orphaned. There is also a multipurpose dining hall and kitchen where children can use for eating, reading and entertainment, and a water and sanitation project block. We have also been able to connect the facility with solar power and a health centre is under construction.
Organisation mission: To give adequate opportunity to children and young persons to realize their full potential by securing, protecting and promoting their fundamental rights
Vision: To realize a safe and secure environment where children’s rights and well-being are upheld
- To secure, protect and promote the best interests and welfare of children in the republic of Kenya.
- To empower children in need of care and protection and their families socially, economically and psychologically
- To promote girl child education and empowerment
- To promote family life in Kenya by way of education, training, instruction, lobbying and advocacy
- To build internal and external capacity in issues of securing, protecting and promoting children’s rights in Kenya
- To create partnership, linkages and networks with other key players
- To promote innovation and research