Pokot is a predominantly arid region, frequented by severe drought throughout the year except for a few pockets which receive small amounts of rainfall insufficient to raise a crop to maturity. It is located in the north western part of Kenya, bordering Turkana County in the South. The region has been characterized by cattle rustling for many years, but we thank God for the relative peace we are now experiencing.
Pokot is inhabited by a pastoral nomadic community, whose livelihoods depend heavily on keeping livestock. The region is vast, covering 9,064 sq Km with difficult terrain, making the area inaccessible.
The effects of retrogressive cultural practices practiced over the years – among them cattle rustling, female genital mutilation and early forced marriages have had a very negative effect on the development of children in this community- factors that are a major challenge to the government of Kenya in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as entailed in the Kenya Vision 2030.
Among this nomadic and pastoral community, meeting the millennium development goal of a world fit for children is still a far-fetched wish. The children have very limited opportunities to education and the girls are more vulnerable to the effects of the outdated cultural practices.
While the international community has pledged to strive for a world of peace, equity, tolerance, security, freedom, respect for the environment and shared responsibility in which special care and attention is given to the most vulnerable, especially the children, the pastoral Pokot child is still grappling with his/her survival.
Access to food, health care, education, adequate nutrition, protection from harm and other necessary opportunities is still a mirage.
Due to high illiteracy levels and attachment to culture, the idea of global child rights, universal free primary education and issues to do with children cannot be explained to their satisfaction. To them, education is the art of teaching a child the traditional norms that must be observed at all stages of growth. Gender roles and responsibilities will be outlined. The girl will know that she must at all times feed the family, fetch water and firewood. She is psychologically prepared for ages 8 to 12 when she will go through what every woman is said to cherish- female genital mutilation, leading to early marriage to a suitor only known to her father. She is told that she has no choice over who marries her- even if he is her grandfather’s age, and even if she will make the fifth or sixth wife.
The boy child, on the other hand is introduced to grazing cattle at the age of five. He has to ensure that the cattle have access to the limited pastures and water sources in the dry land. He begins being a nomad at this age. He will also be introduced to handling the gun because he is the community’s protector and the livestock as well. He has to protect them against their frequent enemies, who have made rustling a trade.
These informal teachings make him a ‘Moran’- fearless and ready to die while defending what belongs to his community.This scenario has worsened in the predominantly arid zones, where communities are solely dependent on livestock. They eat meat and drink milk and blood from their cattle, with any other substitutes coming from relief supplies, which are never enough for their large families.
Culture has therefore down played the role of a girl child in the family, denying her an opportunity to receive education and contribute to the economic development of her community. The girls’ enrolment in school at basic levels is very high, but they drop out in large numbers at grade three because at this stage, they have attained age eight when they ought to undergo some cultural rites of passage, leading to womanhood. They are therefore forcibly withdrawn from school, or they fall out on their own volition on account of the informal teaching they received on the value of being circumcised.
Adopted from 153 (rights reserved)