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Tragedy of practices: When rites of passage mean death or injuries

By Marion Tabitha

Mercy, not her real name, a resident of King’ong’o area in Eldoret, Uasin-Gishu county, is living a nightmare every single day from a decision she made years back. She recalls as she narrates to me the incidences that changed the tune of her life from unending joy to utter misery. As a hardworking businesswoman and mother of four, Mercy lives a life of regrets.  Some years back when her boys were of age, Mercy and her husband thought it best for their two sons to undergo circumcision as they were becoming of age.

The father was not a traditionalist and could not fathom the idea of his sons going through the process traditionally, but Mercy following pieces of advice from relatives and friends could not stop at anything. She wanted a traditional circumcision and for her that was final. She went ahead and sent the sons to her village to join their age mates in the process. One month in the village in a place called ‘Chondoni’ with unabated excitement Mercy went to receive her sons. In utter disappointment, Mercy only received her eldest son alone. Where was the other? She was later informed of the demise of the other son due to excessive bleeding.

Sorrow engulfed the whole family as they mourned the son. Not long enough after that, Mercy’s eldest son began complaining of some complications. He had sores in his mouth, lost his appetite and was growing thinner and thinner. And as people live to say, signs open doors for unexpected rumors, word reached Mercy how most children’s health was deteriorating from the time of circumcision. Mercy in fear of losing another son, rushed her son to hospital only to be diagnosed with HIV. Her life shuttered into thousand uncountable pieces, losing one son then having a sick son. It was more than she could bear.

Mercy’s story of her sons is just a glimpse of the untold stories of probably thousands of boys who have suffered acute life injuries or probably a whole lot of boys who are lying in graveyards due to botched circumcision. The story of a 14-year-old boy from Tarakwa in Uasin-Gishu County that hit the headlines this year served as an eye-opener to the silent wails of initiates and families who have lived through pain of losing a loved one or just injuries that a person succumbed to.

According to Boston children’s hospital, circumcision is one of the simplest surgeries that can be performed on humans. And they continue to state that, surgical complications that result from circumcision are quite low ranging between 2%-3%.

But again, examining the matter in depth, any incident of botched circumcision can cause tragic results. It can lead to life-long effects ranging from excessive bleeding, significant tissue loss, partial amputation that cause deformities, pain, and erectile dysfunction. Some other effects are considered as secondary infections and they include meningitis, gangrene, sepsis and necrotizing fasciitis.

It is paradoxical that what is taken as so easy is still so hard and fatal. As Maina’s son, the 14-year-old boy from Tarakwa, lies in his grave, that is yet another lost soul to this generation. While at that, sixteen other boys are hospitalized in Moi Teaching and Referral hospital in Eldoret. According to Dr. Aruasa they are all being treated for sepsis, which is as a result of bacterial infection, and it can also involve life-threatening medical surgery.

It is time we open our minds to the idea that children are exposed to serious injuries, death and even succumb to infections every year in circumcision related circumstances. Just like Paul to the Romans, should we now continue sinning because we have been saved by grace? I’m prompted to ask, should we just be quiet because the instances are few?

I am not terming this practice as an archaic piece of tradition because you would conquer that even in hospitals such instances do occur.  And it is also evident that so many communities practice traditional circumcision as part of cultural rites and for ages it has been safe. What should we do then? How are we to put a stop to such menace?

Dr. Aruasa told the Nation Africa News that there is a need for infection prevention and control as well as primary healthcare during initiation in order to curb complications.

It would be helpful if we heeded this call. Probably ignorance has consumed a better part of us, and we just ought to raise a warring alarm to awaken a sense of care and responsibility. Training of surgeons on proper surgery and general hygiene measures is crucial to both modern and traditional practitioners. If not worked out now, then we are in for a death and injurious circumcision practice in the name of rite of passage.

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