By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Jan 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - No schoolgirls in western Kenya are being forced to undergo examinations for female genital mutilation, Kenyan authorities said on Tuesday, after a government official sparked outrage by proposing compulsory tests to curb the crime.
George Natembeya, commissioner for Narok County, said on Friday that girls returning to school after the Christmas break were being screened for female genital mutilation (FGM) in order to prosecute their parents and traditional cutters.
Rights groups condemned the move, saying examining the girls - aged between nine and 17 - was demeaning and contravened their right to privacy and dignity.
Kenya's Anti-FGM Board said they had conducted an investigation in Narok after Natembeya's statement and found no evidence of girls being tested.
"The Board hereby confirms that no girl has been paraded for FGM screening as per allegations that have been circulating in the last few days," the semi-autonomous government agency said in a statement.
"The Board recognises and appreciates the role played by different stakeholders in complementing the government's efforts in the FGM campaigns but we want to reiterate that all interventions must uphold the law."
FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is prevalent across parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East - and is seen as necessary for social acceptance and increasing a girl's marriage prospects.
It is usually performed by traditional cutters, often with unsterilised blades or knives. In some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. It can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula and fatal childbirth complications.
Kenya criminalised FGM in 2011, but the deep-rooted practice persists. According to the United Nations, one in five Kenyan women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.
Natembeya said he had announced the compulsory tests to warn communities not to practice FGM on their daughters, but that there was no intention to force all girls to undergo screening. Rights groups said the policy was rolled back following outrage.
"We are not going to line up all the girls and test them - you can't do that as they can be stigmatised," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"What we are doing is that if we get reports from schools that a girl has undergone FGM, it becomes a police case and the girl is taken to hospital and medically examined. Then the parents or care-givers will be arrested and taken to court." (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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