NAIROBI, Kenya/UNITED NATIONS, New York – Monicah, 13, was astonished to learn that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not just an issue just within her community, in Kenya’s rural Samburu County. “I realized it we are not the only ones to practise FGM,” she said recently. “It is the whole world.”

In some countries, the practice is linked to child marriage, taking place when a girl is believed to have reached a “marriageable” age. This is what Monicah experienced when she was only 10 years old in the town of Suguta. After she was cut, she was married off to a 32-year-old man.

“My brother had ordered the marriage because he wanted the goats and cattle that could come as my bride price,” Monicah recounted.

Child bride becomes scholar and champion

Child marriage and female genital mutilation are human rights violations, widely banned around the world. Yet millions of girls continue to face these practices. Globally, one in every five girls is married before age 18, and it is estimated that some 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced female genital mutilation.

Both of these practices are illegal in Kenya, yet 21 per cent of women there, aged 15-49, have experienced female genital mutilation, according to a 2014 survey. Twenty-three per cent of women, aged 20-24, were married before age 18.

In Monicah’s case, things took a fortunate turn after the intervention of the police and two nongovernmental organizations, the Samburu Girls Foundation and Too Young to Wed.

“I stayed with my then-husband for one week, when the chief and police officers came and took me to Maralal Town, and eventually to the Samburu Girls Foundation,” she said.

After leaving her husband, Monicah received a multi-year scholarship from Too Young to Wed, and has since become one of the top performers in her class.

She has also become a proud champion for change, working with other survivors to end the practices that once left her life in disarray.

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