Kenyan woman among Top 10 CNN Heroes of the year

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Enoosaen, Kenya (CNN) — When she was 14 years old, Kakenya Ntaiya entered the cow pen behind her home with an elderly woman carrying a rusty knife.

As a crowd from her Maasai village looked on, Ntaiya sat down, lifted her skirt and opened her legs. The woman grabbed Ntaiya’s most intimate body parts and, in just moments, cut them out.

“It (was) really painful. I fainted,” recalled Ntaiya, now 34. “You’re not supposed to cry.”

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For generations, this ceremony was a rite of passage for every Maasai girl, some as young as 10; soon afterward, they would marry and drop out of school.

About 140 million girls and women worldwide have been affected by female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision. The procedure is commonly based on religious and cultural beliefs, including efforts to prevent premarital sex and marital infidelity.

While female circumcision and child marriage are now illegal in Kenya — new laws banning genital mutilation have contributed to a decline in the practice — officials acknowledge that they still go on, especially in rural tribal areas. Despite free primary education being mandated 10 years ago by the Kenyan government, educating girls is still not a priority for the Maasai culture. According to the Kenyan government, only 11% of Maasai girls in Kenya finish primary school.

“It means the end of their dreams of whatever they want to become in life,” Ntaiya said.

But when Ntaiya endured the painful ritual in 1993, she had a plan. She negotiated a deal with her father, threatening to run away unless he promised she could finish high school after the ceremony.Click HERE to vote for her.

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