Case 31

Growing Pains of the Samburu Girl


  1. To show how harmful traditional practices can violate young girls in Kenya and lead to permanent injury

Narrative Case:

Blossom, a 10 years old Samburu girl from Kenya was brought to the hospital with severe bleeding and close to death. After consulting her mother, Blossom was found to have suffered an incomplete abortion after being 6 months pregnant. The pregnancy had followed being picked at a beading ceremony [1]. She had a ruptured spleen and injuries to her reproductive system. Her mother performed the abortion [2]. Blossom later returned to the hospital one year later with severe pneumonia and learnt that she had also contracted HIV. She was treated with herbs but without any success [3].

Learning points:

[1]. Girls are circumcised and beaded between the ages of nine to twelve. They are targeted based on their good family reputation and picked during cultural dances, or while in the bush looking after livestock.

[2]. Traditional crude methods are employed to bring about an abortion including the location of the 2nd trimester fetal skull in the pelvis or abdomen and the girl’s mother crushing it using her knee or elbow. This rarely leads to a complete abortion and results in an incomplete abortion with complications. If abortion fails and the baby is born, then it is supposed to be thrown in the forest to be eaten by wild animals as the baby is an outcast.

[3]. There is limited access to knowledge about HIV, treatments and services with peers being used as the primary knowledge resource. Home treatments with herbs are commonly used. Condom use is associated with HIV positive people and sex workers and they are not accessible in interior regions of the Samburu country where most of the beading activity takes place. Mortality and morbidity are significant in this group.

Background information

Beading of pre-pubescent girls in Samburu, a predominantly nomadic community in the North Central part of Kenya is a form of initiation. Traditionally young strong men aged 15-19 years of age, referred to as “morans” or “warriors” in the community are not allowed to marry. Mothers of young girls are expected to adorn them with beads as early as 10 years of age as a sign of “sexual engagement” to the “morans”. A hut is then built outside the main house for this “service” without any consideration for the girl regarding exposure to pregnancy, sexually transmissible infections and HIV/AIDS. If the girl does get pregnant she is treated as an outcast and so it is the mother’s obligation to ensure the pregnancy does not get to term. This harmful traditional practice leads to permanent injury to the reproductive system, increase in the spread of sexually traditional infections including HIV/AIDS and the end of their school life. The other rite of passage is female genital cutting after which the girls are deemed ready for marriage. Other complications associated with this practice are i) early and risky sexual encounters and ii) an early marriage and early childbearing.

This harmful traditional practice demands in-depth community dialogue with wider stakeholder participation to raise further awareness of its negative implications. The longer the girls stay in school then the better access there is to offer alternative rites of passage to them and their families. Primary prevention of HIV/AIDS in a setting where young girls cannot negotiate for safe sex, would benefit from use of women-centered products such as microbicides. Opportunities exist for use of multipurpose prevention technologies in prevention of both HIV and pregnancies, as well as education and rescue centers.


There are various initiatives to help these girls:

  1. Samburu girl’s foundation:
  2. Samburu Project Well Drilling Initiative- Changemakers:
  3. Wasichana Wote Wasome Project 2013-2015(UKAID):

AFFILIATIONS:  Kenya Medical Women’s (KMWA)/THE UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI(UON)/Coalition On Violence Against Women (COVAW)

Case 21

Case study from Kenya on FGM and cultural practices which violate girls’ rights


To show how cultural practices violate the rights of girls.

Narrative Case:

The UN convention on the rights of children define this group as those aged under 18 years. One ethnic grouping in Kenya honours the rites of passage for adolescent boys by unfortunately violating the rights of girls.

Mwandi is fifteen years old. She has known since she started her menses at the age of 12 years that she was destined for something special. Her mother kept a close eye on her and did not allow her to spend nights away from home at her friend’s houses like other girls. Early one morning her mother woke her up and after she had bathed, dressed her up nicely and took her to a strange hut in the nearby village where she was told to lie on a bed and keep her legs open[1].  Before she could scream, she felt a sharp excruciating pain down below after which she felt the sting of some herbal preparations [2]. She was told to keep her legs together. That was the beginning of the end of her childhood. Two weeks later when it had all healed up her mother gave her some special fragrant herbs to bathe with and told her she had to be good as she was going to bring honour to their family.

Later she learnt that ‘warrior’ boys are confined in a camp for various rites. Tradition and culture means girl children are circumcised and given to ‘warriors’ as sexual companions.There was no protection offered against sexually transmitted infections when she developed sores and was later told at the clinic that she was HIV positive [3]. Treatment consisted of herbs that her mother procured from a medicine man [4].

If girls get pregnant, because these relationships are outside marriage, the mother of the girl has to find a way of aborting the foetus. This is done by crushing the head of the foetus against the girl’s pelvis.  Mwandi was brought to the clinic by an aunt who visited the village and noticed the severe pain and extreme bleeding (menorrhagia) she was having [5,6].


Learning Points:

[1] Perpetrators are primary caregivers, parents, teachers and close relatives in Kenya and many other countries where culture and tradition are the predominant reason for a large number of practices that are harmful and violent, especially to girls.

[2] Female genital mutilation is believed to help control sexual urge in young girls and keep them chaste. The same tradition and culture is however throwing these virgin girls at young men to whom they are not married.

[3] There is no sex education of either young men or the young women to protect them against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancies.

[4] There is a lack of healthcare available for those who get STIs.

[5] Women doctors must be aware of these practices and use every available opportunity to educate their patients on the dangers of these practices and the continued violations of the rights of children especially girls.

[6] Women doctors need to work with community opinion leaders to offer education on the effects and outcomes of these harmful practices.



  1. Mohamed  FJ. Does Kenya have the courage to lead on women’s rights in Africa? The Guardian April 21 2014. Available at : [Accessed 28th August 2015]
  2. Munyao WL.  Gender Issues Affecting the Girl Child in Kenya International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 2013; 3(4): 125-9. Available at: [Accessed 28th August 2015]
  1. Queens University Belfast. Children’ rights resources. Available at [Accessed 28th August 2015]
  1.  Armstrong S. In Kenya, a Victory for Girls and Rights. The New York Times June 4 2013. Available at:  [Accessed 28th August 2015]