Monday, May 23, 2011

Kenyan tradition of rape 'beading' destroys young girls' lives



"Josephine" is 12 years old and several months pregnant.

She's a member of the Samburu tribe, living in a small village in a remote part of Isiolo in Kenya's Eastern Province. The pre-teen, whose identity is being protected, claims she had sex with a relative -- a rape sanctioned by the Samburu, through a practice called "beading."

Intricate beaded necklaces are a symbol of the Kenyan nation. But to young Samburu girls, the necklaces are a symbol not of national pride, but something much darker, that can lead to rape, unwanted pregnancies -- and even the deaths of newborns, according to activist Josephine Kulea and the Samburu tribe itself.

In "beading," a close family relative will approach a girl's parents with red Samburu beads and place the necklace around the girl's neck.

"Effectively he has booked her," says Kulea, a member of the Samburu herself. "It is like a (temporary) engagement, and he can then have sex with her." Girls are also "beaded" as an early marriage promise by non-relatives.

Some girls who are "beaded" are no more than 6 years old. They are the focus of Kulea's rescue mission, a trip to Isiolo she's been planning for weeks.

Samburu culture dictates that girls be engaged to a relative, she says, and they are allowed to have sex with him. But "they are not allowed to get pregnant and there is no preventative measures," she says. "At the end of the day, most girls get pregnant ... and these (infants) end up dying or being killed or being given away."

When they reach adulthood, Samburu girls will marry outside of their village, but taboo dictates the girls will never be able to marry if they keep their babies resulting from beading. (read more)