Chief Rallies Community to End FGM and Child Marriage
By Sarah Ooko, World Vision Senior Communications & Media Officer, Kenya
One morning, Carlos Kapkoikat was going about his normal duties when he was informed that an eight-year-old boy was in critical condition due to severe burns inflicted on him.
Driven by his love for children, Carlos immediately rushed to the boy's home and rescued the child from the physical violence he was being subjected to by his mother.
"This incident broke my heart, especially after I discovered that the boy was being punished due to his persistent cry to be allowed to go to school just as other children his age," states 42-year-old Carlos, at his home in Tirioko, Baringo County, Kenya.
Thanks to his intervention, the matter was taken up by relevant law enforcement and child protection officers. Eventually, the affected boy was enrolled in a nearby school and was able to learn smoothly thereafter.
This incident left a mark on the life of Carlos, who was in his twenties at the time. The ordeal shaped his career path and purpose in life.
Consequently, he decided to come back home and set up structures to ensure that children are protected from abuse.
As a former sponsored child of World Vision, Carlos knew only too well the powerful impact that a helping hand could have on the lives of vulnerable children.
"I came from a very poor family. My parents had no money. So, I never thought I would get the opportunity to go to school like other children and have a bright future," he says.
"But sponsorship made this possible. As a child, I was touched that someone believed in me and was willing to contribute money to help me achieve my dream. They changed my life and inspired me to always reach out to those in need in our community, especially children."
As an Administrative Chief (leader of a Location), Carlos uses his authority to discourage all forms of violence, especially Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage that are prevalent in his community. Indeed, he has initiated a zero-tolerance policy to these practices in his home town.
"It doesn't matter who you are. Anyone found harming children will have to face the law," says Carlos.
Aside from enforcing child protection laws, Carlos facilitates men dialogue forums in his community to create awareness on children's rights, through the support of World Vision and UNFPA in Kenya.
"To win the war against FGM and child marriage, it is important to bring the men on board. They are the ones who choose to marry circumcised girls based on the community's cultural beliefs. And when they become fathers, they will allow their girls to be cut and married off in exchange of dowry that gives them wealth," he says.
"These cultural practices have been going on for decades and they appear normal. So, it's important to empower the men and let them realise that some of these practices are harmful to children and should therefore be abolished."
Carlos' campaign has been gaining ground, changing mindsets and nurturing men to become anti-FGM champions that guard children and protect them from harm.
Aside from the men, Carlos also educates women on the importance of allowing their daughters to go to school and have a bright future, instead of subjecting them to FGM and early marriage that dims their hope for a bright future.
"Most women, having gone through the harrowing effects of the cut, are usually more receptive to initiatives aimed at saving their daughters from the experiences they went through after being circumcised and getting into marriage early."
During this time of COVID-19, Carlos has been vigilant, always checking on children to ensure that no one is taking advantage of the prevailing circumstances to abuse them.
"I always aim to be free with children here. They see me as a father and I always encourage them to open up and let me know of any problems they may be experiencing," he says.
This has made it easy for children to confide in Carlos. Indeed, his office is a safe haven that many girls have run to, in a bid to escape attempts by parents intending to circumcise and marry them off for dowry.
His dedication has gone a long way in reducing cases of FGM and child marriage in the community. This feat has not gone unnoticed.
In 2018, Carlos was recognised by Kenya's President, Uhuru Kenyatta, for his zeal and dedication to end these harmful practices that prevent children from leading happy lives and fulfilling their dreams.