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The heartbreaking moment a Kenyan girl is sold into marriage

A man held on to a girl after she tried to escape when she realized she is to be married in Kenya on Dec. 7, 2014. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters)

In a village about 50 miles from Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, among a tribe that practices genital mutilation as a rite of womanhood, a teenage girl is sold into an arranged marriage. Her price is 20 goats, 10 cows and a few camels, paid to her family over several weeks. And her reaction is heartbreaking.

Dressed in bright-colored clothes and ceremonial beads, she tries to escape, balling up a fist and kicking her bare feet from the ground when a man picks her up from behind and pulls her away from her home. The scene, which unfolded over the weekend in the Pokot tribe, was captured and described by Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola. His photos document a Pokot tradition in which parents give away their daughters, usually at the start of adolescence. The girls are sold for a dowry and married to men in the tribe.

The girl’s family claimed she didn’t know about the arrangement her father made with her future husband, Reuters reported. If they told her, they feared, she would run away. A group of men from the tribe came to collect her and led her to a two-day ceremony in the village.

Within the Pokot tribe, female circumcision is seen as a girl’s transition to womanhood. Although it’s now illegal in Kenya, the tribe still allows it and, in fact, forces all girls to do it before marriage. The practice is also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) and, in many countries, is considered a human rights violation. It can lead to severe bleeding, infections, infertility and death. Some 125 million girls and women in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East have experienced it, according to the United Nations.

Earlier this year, Kenya created a prosecution unit and a hotline for girls and women to report such abuse.

“If we get this information beforehand, it will actually assist in prevention of the practice because we can organize our officers on the ground to raid the place and rescue the girls,” Christine Nanjala, head of the anti-FGM prosecution unit, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In October, Modola shot a series of photos in rural Kenya documenting Pokot’s circumcision ritual.

“They believe when a girl is circumcised, she is an adult and she is ready to get married,” anti-FGM advocate Rebecca Chebet told WXYZ-TV. “Now girls as young as nine are getting circumcised because their father wants a dowry.”

WARNING: The images below may be disturbing because of their graphic nature.

Over the weekend, the Pokot tribe held an initiation ceremony for girls who were transitioning into womanhood.

More than 100 young women took part in the ceremony, which included a ritual where the girls punch a young bull into submission. The men in the community then kill with a hit to the head and a spear to the heart, Reuters reported.

Girls in the community sang and danced all evening and through the next day during the initiation ceremony. At the end, they were allowed to dance with the boys, under supervision from the elders.