As the world marked the international day against female genital mutilation (FGM) on 6 February, hundreds of girls in Kenya's Rift Valley Province were running away from home to escape the practice, according to media and human rights sources.
Several hundred primary schoolgirls are said to be "holed-up" in churches in Narok and Kajiado districts after escaping FGM being practised in their communities.
FGM was formally outlawed in Kenya with the introduction of the Children's Act, passed by parliament in 2001, but it is still widely practised in secret by a number of communities, particularly in the vast Rift Valley Province.
According to the women's umbrella body, Maendeleo ya Wanawake [Kiswahili for women in development], the Rift Valley region has the highest incidence of FGM in the country.
Rosemary Moraa, who runs Maendeleo ya Wanawake's anti-FGM programme, told IRIN on Friday that most of the girls were running away as a result of awareness created by widespread anti-FGM campaigns throughout the country, and urged the government to establish an institution which could provide shelter for such girls.
"The girls have known they are not going to benefit from FGM, so they run away," Moraa told IRIN. "For now, we are still debating what to do with them."
The ubiquity of FGM in the province was highlighted further by a case in which two sisters took their father to court to avert forcible circumcision. The girls won the case.
One human rights organisation in the region has urged the Kenyan authorities to introduce medical check-ups on schoolgirls in such communities as part of the fight against FGM, the East African Standard reported.
Ken Wafula, who runs the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD), an NGO in Eldoret, Rift Valley Province, said since the enactment of the Children's Act, the communities still practising FGM were doing so secretly to avoid arrest.
"We are currently making visits to various primary schools to educate young girls against the dangers of the rite, and encouraging the formation of anti-FGM clubs in schools," the East African Standard quoted Wafula as saying.
However Maendeleo ya Wanawake says it opposes this approach and prefers advocacy. "Our work is advocacy, so parents can be convinced that FGM is wrong," Moraa told IRIN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions