The girls erupt from the roadside bushes, their brilliant shawls swirling behind them as they beeline for the idling car. They clamber into the back, wide-eyed and breathing hard. School is out, and girls like Dorika are fleeing their families to save their childhoods and, maybe, save their lives. The cutting season has begun, and safe house staff are busy.
The December rains mark not only the end of the school term but the start of the four-week period when girls in Tanzania’s northern Mara region typically are forced to endure female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or, simply, cutting. Men in the Kurya and Mungurimi tribes are brought up to believe that msagani — uncut girls — are unclean and unfit for marriage. Every year there are stories of young girls bleeding to death, their bodies dumped in the bush where the wild things are. FGM has been illegal in Tanzania since 1998, but many tribespeople still believe the life-threatening procedure is a mandatory rite of passage into womanhood — and an indicator to men in the village the girl is now ready to get married. The lure of lucrative dowries of livestock for impoverished parents perpetuates the inextricably linked practices of FGM and child marriage. Daughters become cash cows, at the expense of a girl’s schooling and health.
Here are a selection of photographs from the project.