Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is the world’s most widespread form of terror. It targets little girls.
Every year two million have their clitoris cut off and their vaginal lips excised with knives or razor blades. The consequences are devastating, physically and psychologically. Sometimes they are fatal.
This practice is not sanctified by Islam or any other religion. Most Islamic societies do not mutilate their daughters’ genitals. It is simply an ancient tradition based on fear of women’s sexuality. That is a God-given quality which should be educated with love, not crippled by violence.
Many African governments are trying to eradicate such a harmful practice. They realize that no country can truly develop if half of its people are deliberately maimed. But their efforts are feeble. They just don’t have the money for effective educational and health programs. These are countries where the average income is about $2/day. Small amounts of aid can have a huge impact. Of course it must be well monitored and culturally sensitive.
One way to finance this would be to cancel part of these countries’ foreign debt in return for programs to stop female genital mutilation. This approach has proven successful in saving tropical rainforests through debt for nature swaps. Why not recycle a tiny fraction of their uncollectible debt to save millions of children from real and present sexual terror?
This excruciating violence has long been shrouded in a code of silence. Only in the last decade has it come out of the shadows. Actual progress is slow. Because of rapid population growth the absolute number of victims may be greater than ever. Today, and every day, 6000 girls will endure the torture.
Sexism is as degrading as racism. The magnitude and horror of female genital mutilation cry out for action.
Please don’t let these girls down.
Female genital mutilation
- Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
- The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
- Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.
- An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
- It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years.
- In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM.
- FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Increasingly, however, FGM is being performed by health care providers.
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types.
- Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
- Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
- Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
No health benefits, only harm
FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Long-term consequences can include:
- recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
- an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
- the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
Who is at risk?
Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually.
Between 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa, about 92 million girls age 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM.
The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among certain immigrant communities in North America and Europe.
Cultural, religious and social causes
The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.
- Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
- FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
- FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage “illicit” sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
- FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.
- Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
- Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
- Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
- In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
- In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
- In some societies, FGM is being practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.
In 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) against the practice of FGM. A new statement, with wider United Nations support, was then issued in February 2008 to support increased advocacy for the abandonment of FGM.
The 2008 statement documents new evidence collected over the past decade about the practice. It highlights the increased recognition of the human rights and legal dimensions of the problem and provides current data on the frequency and scope of FGM. It also summarizes research about why FGM continues, how to stop it, and its damaging effects on the health of women, girls and newborn babies.
Since 1997, great efforts have been made to counteract FGM, through research, work within communities, and changes in public policy. Progress at both international and local levels includes:
- wider international involvement to stop FGM;
- the development of international monitoring bodies and resolutions that condemn the practice;
- revised legal frameworks and growing political support to end FGM; and
- in some countries, decreasing practice of FGM, and an increasing number of women and men in practising communities who declare their support to end it.
Research shows that, if practising communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly.
In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution (WHA61.16) on the elimination of FGM, emphasizing the need for concerted action in all sectors – health, education, finance, justice and women’s affairs.
WHO efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation focus on:
- advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within a generation;
- research: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
- guidance for health systems: developing training materials and guidelines for health professionals to help them treat and counsel women who have undergone procedures.
WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.
WORLDWIDE INCIDENCE OF FEMALE GENTIAL MUTILATION
According to US Department of State’s: “County Reports on Human Rights Practices” for 2010
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced on girls and women from infancy up to 30 years of age (although the majority of cases occurred before the age of 13, with half occurring before the age of five), and generally took the form of excision. Approximately 13 percent of women and girls have been subjected to FGM; the figure was higher in some regions, especially the northern departments, including Alibori and Donga (48 percent) and Borgou (59 percent), and among certain ethnic groups; more than 70 percent of Bariba and Peul (Fulani) and 53 percent of Yoa-Lokpa women and girls had undergone FGM. Younger women were less likely to be excised than their older counterparts. Those who performed the procedure, usually older women, profited from it. The law prohibits FGM and provides for penalties for performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA ($13,000); however, the government generally was unsuccessful in preventing the practice. Individuals who were aware of an incident of FGM but did not report it potentially faced fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 CFA ($110 to $220). Enforcement was rare, however, due to the code of silence associated with this crime.
In one example, in September 2009 police arrested a woman on the strength of a denunciation by a local NGO that accused her of excising seven girls in the area of Kouande in the North. The police referred the case to the court in Natitingou. In October 2009 the court sentenced the woman to one-and-one-half year’s imprisonment.
NGOs continued to educate rural communities about the dangers of FGM and to retrain FGM practitioners in other activities. A prominent NGO, the local chapter of the Inter‑African Committee, made progress in raising public awareness of the dangers of the practice, and the government cooperated with these efforts. The Ministry of Family continued an education campaign that included conferences in schools and villages, discussions with religious and traditional authorities, and displaying banners. NGOs also addressed this problem in local languages on local radio stations.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced, especially in rural areas, despite being illegal, and usually was performed at an early age. According to a 2006 report by the National Committee for the Fight Against Excision (CNLPE), up to 81 percent of women age 25 and older, and approximately 34 percent of girls and women under 25, had undergone FGM. Although there has been no recent study on FGM, the CNLPE believed that the practice has decreased significantly. Perpetrators are subject to a significant fine and imprisonment of six months to three years, or up to 10 years, if the victim dies. During the year, security forces and social workers from the Ministry of Social Action arrested several FGM practitioners and their accomplices. In accordance with the law, they were sentenced to prison terms.
As part of the government’s campaign against FGM in West Africa, the first ladies of Burkina Faso and Niger presided over a 2008 meeting on FGM in Ouagadougou. Noting that girls were sometimes taken across national borders to countries where excision is legal or law enforcement was weak, participants called on governments to coordinate and enforce national laws against FGM. There were no reports of increased enforcement efforts resulting from this meeting. The government, through the Regional Committees to Combat Excision, continued to work with local populations to address FGM. These regional committees (presided over by government-appointed high commissioners) brought together representatives of the Ministries of Social Action, Basic Education, Secondary and Superior Education, Women’s Rights, Justice, Health, the police and gendarmerie, and local and religious leaders; they actively campaigned against the practice.
The law does not prohibit FGM, which was practiced in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest regions; statistics on its prevalence were unavailable. Internal migration contributed to the spread of FGM to different parts of the country. The majority of FGM procedures were clitorectomies. The severest form of FGM, infibulation, was performed in the Kajifu area of the Southwest Region. FGM usually was practiced on infants and preadolescent girls. Public health centers in areas where FGM was frequently practiced counseled women about the harmful consequences of FGM; however, few perpetrators were caught in the act, and the government did not prosecute any persons charged with perpetrating FGM. According to the Association to Fight Violence against Women, FGM practitioners frequently conducted secret, rather than open, ceremonies following the subjection of a girl to FGM.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The law prohibits FGM, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($200 to $2,000) depending on the severity of the case; nevertheless, girls were subjected to this traditional practice in certain rural areas, especially in the Northeast and, to a lesser degree, in Bangui. According to the AWJ, anecdotal evidence suggested FGM rates declined in recent years as a result of efforts by UNICEF, AWJ, and the Ministries of Social Affairs and Public Health to familiarize women and girls with the dangers of the practice.
The law prohibits FGM; however, the practice was widespread, particularly in rural areas. According to a 2004 report by the governmental National Institute of Statistics, Economic, and Demographic Studies, 45 percent of females had undergone excision. According to the survey, 70 percent of Muslim females and 30 percent of Christian females were subjected to FGM. The practice was especially prevalent among ethnic groups in the East and South. All three types of FGM were practiced. The least common but most dangerous and severe type, infibulation, was confined largely to the region on the eastern border with Sudan. FGM usually was performed prior to puberty as a rite of passage.
FGM could be prosecuted as a form of assault, and charges could be brought against the parents of FGM victims, medical practitioners, or others involved in the action. However, prosecution was hindered by the lack of specific penalty provisions in the penal code. There were no reports that any such suits were brought during the year. The Ministry of Social Action and Family was responsible for coordinating activities to combat FGM. The government, with assistance from the UN, continued to conduct public awareness campaigns to discourage the practice of FGM and highlight its dangers as part of its efforts to combat gender-based violence. The campaign encouraged persons to speak out against FGM and other forms of abuse against women and girls. The president’s wife played a major role during the year in raising awareness of violence and other human rights abuses faced by women and children.
FGM was a serious problem. The law specifically forbids FGM and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to two million FCFA ($720 to $4,000). Double penalties apply to medical practitioners. FGM was practiced most frequently among rural populations in the north and west and to a lesser extent in the center and south. FGM usually was performed on girls before or at puberty as a rite of passage. Local NGOs continued public awareness programs to prevent FGM and worked to persuade FGM practitioners to stop the practice. Unlike previous years, authorities did make some arrests related to FGM during the year; however, practitioners were rarely charged. For example, on June 13, the Duekoue police and IRC representatives interrupted an FGM ceremony in the Kokoman neighborhood in Duekoue. A six year-old girl who had just been mutilated was rushed to the Duekoue hospital where she received medical treatment. Police arrested the girl’s mother and three other women involved. No further action was taken against those responsible at year’s end.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was widely performed on young girls. An estimated 93 percent of females in the country have undergone FGM. Infibulation, the most extreme form of FGM, continued to be widely practiced, especially in rural areas. Some studies indicated that recent NGO and government efforts to stop the practice reduced the number of young girls subjected to FGM in Djibouti City. The law prohibits FGM, punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million DJF ($5,570), and allows NGOs to file charges on behalf of victims; however, the government has not convicted anyone under this statute. The law provides for up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 DJF ($557) for anyone convicted of failing to report a completed or planned FGM to the proper authorities.
During the year the government maintained efforts to end FGM with continued high-profile national publicity campaigns, ongoing public support from the first lady and other prominent women, and outreach to Muslim religious leaders. The government-run press featured frequent and prominent coverage of events organized to educate the public on the negative consequences of FGM. Efforts of the Union of Djiboutian Women and other groups to educate women were reportedly effective in lessening the incidence of FGM in the capital.
FGM remained a problem, but the government addressed it seriously; FGM rates declined from previous years. According to the most recent government statistics, the government received approximately 5,000 reports of FGM cases from citizens between 2005 and 2009. In 2008 the minister of population and families stated publicly that FGM rates in Upper Egypt were 65 percent but did not exceed 9 percent in northern governorates. The law criminalizes FGM except in cases of medical necessity, with penalties of three months to two years in prison or a fine of up to 5,000 pounds ($857). Partnering with NGOs, the Justice Ministry, and the public prosecutor, the Ministry for Population and Families continued its campaign to combat FGM through public outreach and encouraging the public prosecutor to pursue prosecutions. The ministry organized renunciation ceremonies and made announcements through the year that certain villages were FGM-free.
According to reliable sources, the practice of FGM has been largely eliminated in urban areas through the efforts of government educational campaigns to discourage its practice, but FGM continued in remote villages and among nomadic populations. The government did not release official figures estimating the current rate of FGM, but before recent campaigns largely eliminated FGM in urban areas, international organizations reported that 95 percent of girls had undergone FGM, and these figures are likely still accurate in rural regions with limited government interaction. In the lowlands, infibulation–the most severe form of FGM–was practiced. In 2007 the government issued a proclamation declaring FGM a crime and prohibited its practice. The government and other organizations, including the NUEW and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, sponsored a variety of education programs during the year that discouraged the practice.
The majority of girls and women in the country had undergone some form of FGM. Girls typically experienced clitoridectomies seven days after birth (consisting of an excision of the clitoris, often with partial labial excision) and faced infibulation (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM) at the onset of puberty. A 2008 study funded by Save the Children Norway reported a 24 percent national reduction in FGM cases over the past 10 years, due in part to a strong anti-FGM campaign. The penal code criminalizes practitioners of clitoridectomy, with imprisonment of at least three months or a fine of at least 500 birr ($30.53). Likewise, infibulation of the genitals is punishable with imprisonment of five to 10 years. However, no criminal charges have ever been brought for FGM. The government discouraged the practice of FGM through education in public schools and broader mass media campaigns.
The law does not prohibit female genital mutilation (FGM), and the practice remained widespread. A survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund conducted in 2005/06 found that approximately 78 percent of girls and women have undergone FGM, and seven of the nine major ethnic groups reportedly practiced it at ages varying from shortly after birth until age 16. FGM was less frequent among educated and urban groups. Some religious leaders publicly defended the practice. There were reports of health complications, including deaths, associated with FGM; however, no accurate statistics were available. Several NGOs conducted public education programs to discourage the practice and spoke out against FGM in the media.
In 2009 more than 30 National Assembly members attended a seminar organized by GAMCOTRAP on the harmful effects of FGM. GAMCOTRAP was campaigning for a law banning FGM. In May 2009 Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy chaired an international conference calling for an end to FGM.
The law prohibits FGM, but it remained a serious problem in the Upper West Region of the country, and to a lesser extent in Upper East and Northern regions. Type II FGM–defined by the World Health Organization as the excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora–was more commonly performed than any other type. A girl was typically excised between 4 and 14 years of age. According to a 2008 study conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service with support from the UN Children’s Fund, approximately 49 percent of girls and women between 15 and 49 years old in Upper West Region–where the practice was most common–had experienced some form of FGM, 20 percent in Upper East Region, and 5 percent in Northern Region.
Intervention programs were somewhat successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM, particularly in the northern regions. Officials at all levels, including traditional chiefs, continued to speak out against the practice, and local NGOs continued educational campaigns to encourage abandonment of FGM and to train practitioners in new skills so they could seek alternate sources of income.
In a 2009 survey of girls and women between 15 and 49 years old in Upper West Region, 85 percent stated that the practice should be discontinued, 10 percent were unsure, and only 5 percent supported its continuation. Lower prevalence of FGM among women in Upper East Region was highly correlated with increased education. There were no prosecutions of practitioners during the year.
FGM was practiced widely in all regions among all religious and ethnic groups, primarily on girls between the ages of four and 17; infibulation, the most dangerous form of FGM, was rarely performed. The Coordinating Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting Women’s and Children’s Health (CPTAFE), a local NGO dedicated to eradicating FGM and ritual scarring, reported high rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality due to FGM. According to a 2005 Demographic and Health Survey, 96 percent of women in the country had undergone the procedure. FGM is illegal, and practitioners faced a penalty of three months in prison and a fine of approximately 100,000 Guinea francs ($21); however, there were no prosecutions during the year.
The transition government cooperated with NGOs in their efforts to eradicate FGM and educate health workers on the dangers of the practice. A study conducted by a local NGO during the year reported that 33 percent of women and 45 percent of men were opposed to FGM, compared to 19 percent of women and 41 percent of men in 2005. The NGO TOSTAN was successful in bringing together many communities to declare their intention to abandon FGM and early or forced marriage. Recognizing traditional practices that encouraged FGM, TOSTAN helped establish binding social contracts in which families agreed to accept a woman who had not undergone FGM to marry one of their sons. Continued efforts by NGOs to persuade communities to abandon FGM resulted in thousands of families ending the practice. Urban, educated families increasingly opted to perform only a slight, symbolic incision on a girl’s genitals rather than the complete procedure.
There is no law prohibiting FGM, and certain ethnic groups, especially the Fulas and the Mandinkas, practiced it, not only on adolescent girls but also on babies as young as four months. There was no government effort to combat FGM during the year, but NGOs worked to limit the practice. In June there was one reported death of a baby girl in Bissau due to the practice.
The law prohibits FGM under the age of 18 but it was practiced, particularly in rural areas. FGM usually was performed at an early age. According to UNICEF, one-third of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone FGM, and in June 2009 an obstetrician estimated that 32 percent of women had suffered from the procedure. Of the country’s 42 ethnic groups, only four (the Luo, Luhya, Teso, and Turkana, who together constituted approximately 25 percent of the population) did not traditionally practice FGM. According to the Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs, in 2008 90 percent of girls among Somali, Kisii, Kuria, and Maasai communities had undergone the procedure. The rates among other communities were: Taita Taveta (62 percent); Kalenjin (48 percent); Embu (44 percent); Meru (42 percent); Kamba (37 percent); and Kikuyu (34 percent). There were public awareness programs to prevent the practice, in which government officials often participated.
Some churches and NGOs provided shelter to girls who fled their homes to avoid FGM, but community elders frequently interfered with attempts to stop the practice. Various communities and NGOs instituted “no cut” initiation rites for girls as an alternative to FGM. In August 2009 two girls were forcibly circumcised against their will in Narok, after previously fleeing threats of FGM by their families.
FGM was common and traditionally performed on young girls in northern, western, and central ethnic groups, particularly in rural areas. The most extreme form of FGM, infibulation, was not practiced. The law does not specifically prohibit FGM. Traditional institutions, such as the secret Sande Society, often performed FGM as an initiation rite, making it difficult to ascertain the number of cases. To combat harmful traditional practices like FGM, the government trained community leaders and women’s groups during the year and provided training in alternative income generating skills to FGM practitioners.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was very common, particularly in rural areas, and was performed on girls between the ages of six months and six years. Approximately 92 percent of all girls and women had been subjected to FGM, although a Ministry of Health demographic study in 2006 reported that among girls and women ages 15 to 19, the rate was 85 percent. The practice was widespread in most regions with the exception of certain northern areas, occurred among most ethnic groups, was not subject to class boundaries, and was not religiously based. There are no laws specifically prohibiting FGM; however, a government decree prohibits FGM in government-funded health centers. Government information campaigns regarding FGM reached citizens throughout the country, and human rights organizations reported that FGM decreased among children of educated parents. There were reports of Burkinabe families crossing into Mali to evade stricter FGM laws in Burkina Faso.
FGM was practiced by all ethnic groups and performed on young girls, often on the seventh day after birth and almost always before the age of six months. The child protection penal code states that any act or attempt to damage a female child’s sexual organs is punishable by imprisonment and a 120,000 to 300,000 ouguiya ($460 to $1,153) penalty. The most recent statistics on FGM indicated a decrease in incidence from 71 percent in 2001 to 65 percent in 2007, mainly due to a decrease in the urban sector. Infibulation, the most severe form of excision, was not practiced.
The government and international NGOs continued to coordinate anti-FGM efforts focused on eradicating the practice in hospitals, discouraging midwives from practicing FGM, and educating the population. The government, the UN Population Fund, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the national Imams’ Association joined other civil society members to emphasize the serious health risks of FGM and that FGM was not a religious requirement. Government hospitals and licensed medical practitioners were barred from performing FGM, and several government agencies worked to prevent others from perpetrating it. According to several women’s rights experts, the campaign against FGM appeared to be changing attitudes towards the practice. On January 11, 30 religious leaders declared a fatwa (Islamic ruling) against FGM following a two-day round table organized by the Forum of Islamic Thought and Dialogue Between Cultures. The government and civil society organized a Zero Tolerance Day on February 6 to raise awareness about FGM.
Events focusing on raising women’s awareness of FGM were organized in Hodh El Ghabri on February 2 by MASEF and the GTZ. On May 24, communities in the Brakna region renounced FGM at events organized by UNICEF, the NGO Tostan, and the MASEF.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is against the law and punishable by six months to three years in prison. If an FGM victim dies, the practitioner can be sentenced to 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Certain ethnic groups practiced FGM, predominantly the Fulani and Djerma in western Niger. According to UNICEF, the FGM rate decreased from 5 percent in 1998 to 2.2 percent in 2006. However, a 2008 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report stated that circumcisers traveled from Burkina Faso to Niger to carry out FGM on nomad Gourmantche girls as part of a rising trend of cross-border FGM. FGM was practiced on young girls, with clitoridectomy the most common form. The government actively combated FGM, continuing its close collaboration with local NGOs, community leaders, UNICEF, and other donors to distribute educational materials at health centers and participate in educational events.
On January 14, following a complaint lodged by the Nigerien Committee against Harmful Traditional Practices (CONIPRAT), a women’s rights NGO, against three women practitioners of FGM, the lower court in Kollo, Tillabery Region, sentenced each defendant to an eight-month suspended sentence and a 40,000 CFA ($80) fine. On February 6, in Tamou, Say District, the minister of population, women’s promotion, and child protection, chaired the celebration of the International Day of “Zero Tolerance” of FGM, during which the community issued a public statement pledging to abandon the practice of FGM. On November 27, authorities arrested a woman in a village near Niamey and charged her with seven cases of FGM, performed on seven children between the ages of two months to three years. They also arrested the children’s mothers. CONIPRAT called for the woman to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, given her history and the age of the victims. No date was determined for hearings. In December the court and mental health specialists determined that the FGM performer was mentally impaired. Authorities removed her from custody and placed her under medical care.
The 2008 NDHS reported that 30 percent of women in the country had been subjected to FGM. While practiced in all parts of the country, FGM was most prevalent in the southern region among the Yoruba and Igbo. Infibulation, the most severe form of FGM, was infrequently practiced in northern states but was common in the south. The age at which women and girls were subjected to the practice varied from the first week of life until after a woman delivered her first child; however, most women were subjected to FGM before their first birthday.
The law criminalizes the removal of any part of a sexual organ from a woman or girl, except for medical reasons approved by a doctor. According to the provisions of the law, an offender is any woman who offers herself for FGM; any person who coerces, entices, or induces any woman to undergo FGM; or any person who, for other than for medical reasons, performs an operation removing part of a woman’s or a girl’s sexual organs. The law provides for a fine of 50,000 naira ($330), one year’s imprisonment, or both, for a first offense and doubled penalties for a second conviction.
The federal government publicly opposed FGM but took no legal action to curb the practice. Twelve states banned FGM. However, once a state legislature criminalized FGM, NGOs found that they had to convince the local government authorities that state laws were applicable in their districts. The Ministry of Health, women’s groups, and many NGOs sponsored public awareness projects to educate communities about the health hazards of FGM; however, underfunding and logistical obstacles limited their contact with health care workers.
FGM often resulted in obstetrical fistula (a tearing of the vaginal area as a result of prolonged, obstructed labor without timely medical intervention). Most fistulas resulted in the death of the baby and chronic incontinence in the woman. The social consequences of fistula included physical and emotional isolation, abandonment or divorce, ridicule and shame, infertility, lack of economic support, and the risk of violence and abuse. The absence of treatment greatly reduced prospects for work and family life, and women affected often were left to rely on charity.
One media article reported a government study which examined the practice of FGM. According to the article, FGM is performed on some girls between the ages of one to nine years-old, although the practice remained prohibited in hospitals and other health centers. Some cases of life-threatening consequences were reported. One girl was brought to a health center because she was bleeding excessively three days after the procedure.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced widely throughout the country, but Tostan and UNICEF stated efforts to curtail the practice continued to have a significant effect. Some girls were as young as one year old when FGM was performed on them. Almost all women in the country’s northern Fouta region were FGM victims, as were 60 to 70 percent of women in the South and Southeast. Sealing, one of the most extreme and dangerous forms of FGM, was sometimes practiced by the Toucouleur, Mandinka, Soninke, Peul, and Bambara ethnicities, particularly in rural and some urban areas. The most recent figures from UNICEF estimated that from 1997 to 2007, approximately 28 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had been subjected to FGM, and 20 percent of these women were estimated to have at least one daughter who had been subjected to FGM.
FGM is a criminal offense under the law, carrying a prison sentence of six months to five years for those directly practicing it or ordering it to be carried out on a third person. However, many persons still practiced FGM openly and with impunity. The government prosecuted those caught engaging in the practice and sought to end FGM by collaborating with Tostan and other groups to educate persons about its inherent dangers.
Tostan reported that 4,183 out of an estimated 5,000 communities had formally abandoned the practice by year’s end. According to Tostan, the movement to abandon FGM accelerated, with 70 percent of previously FGM-practicing communities in the country ending the harmful practice. The government adopted the Tostan model and approach to eradicating FGM. Tostan was working with 522 villages and aimed to end FGM completely by 2015.
FGM in the country is performed predominantly by women’s secret societies. The UN and NGOs reported a decline in the practice, likely due to increased awareness and intervention; although many in secret societies, particularly “sowies,” the women who perform genital cutting, continued to advocate for the practice. During the year the UN reported that 35-40 percent of women and girls in Sierra Leone had been subjected to FGM.
The 2007 Child Rights Act does not explicitly address FGM. However, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs interprets de facto FGM within the section of the law that prohibits subjecting anyone under the age of 18 to harmful treatment, including any cultural practice that dehumanizes or is injurious to the physical and mental welfare of the child. The Ministry continued to implement the Child Rights Act and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the country is a signatory, but there were no prosecutions for FGM during the year. Although police occasionally detained practitioners on accusations of forced mutilation or manslaughter, human rights workers reported that police remained hesitant to interfere in cultural practices. The UN agencies (including UNFPA, UNIFEM, UNICEF, and World Health Organization) continued to work with local NGOs such as the Amazonian Initiative Movement and the Advocacy Movement Network to tackle FGM. The UN and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation also conducted research on the link between FGM and obstetric fistula in order to present a medical argument against the practice.
At the community level the UN and local NGOs worked with traditional leaders and local chiefs on a range of interventions, including sensitization meetings and efforts to persuade local chiefs to impose by-laws outlawing FGM for children. During the year traditional leaders in the southern district of Pujehun signed a memorandum of understanding with “sowies” (FGM practitioners) to increase the minimum age of initiations the “sowies” performed to 18 years. The UN also held workshops for local social workers and traditional leaders on prevention measures, as well as health care and psychosocial support for victims.
NGOs reported a decline in the practice of FGM, likely due to increased awareness and interventions. FGM was practiced on girls as young as two years old, and many NGOs reported cases in which toddlers underwent FGM because their very young age made it cheaper for parents.
The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was widespread throughout the country. As many as 98 percent of women and girls had undergone FGM; the majority were subjected to infibulation, the most severe form of FGM. In Somaliland and Puntland, FGM is illegal, but the law was not enforced. UN agencies and NGOs tried to educate the population about the dangers of FGM, but there were no reliable statistics to measure the success of their programs.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) remained widespread, particularly in the North, but estimates on its prevalence varied widely. A 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey, the most recent available, reported FGM incidence at 69 percent. In the North, Ministry of Health bylaws prohibit the practice of FGM by physicians and medical practitioners; however, midwives continued to conduct FGM. In the South, performing or causing FGM to be performed is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. While a growing number of urban, educated families no longer practiced FGM, there were reports that the prevalence of FGM in Darfur had increased as persons moved to cities. FGM was also increasing in IDP camps in Darfur. The government actively campaigned against it in partnership with UNICEF, civil society groups, and the High Council for Children’s Welfare. Several NGOs also worked to eradicate FGM.
The law prohibits female genital mutilation (FGM); however, it continued to be practiced by some tribes and families. Statutory penalties for performing FGM on girls under 18 ranged from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of TZS 300,000 ($203), or both; however, prosecutions were rare, and none were conducted during the year. Many police officers and communities were not aware of the law; victims were often reluctant to testify; and some witnesses feared reprisals from FGM supporters. Some villagers reportedly bribed local leaders not to enforce the law in order to carry out FGM on their daughters.
In March AFNET conducted a study on 22 villages in Rorya District in Mara Region on the prevalence of FGM in the region. Girls between the ages of 12 and 18 were the primary targets of FGM and were promised gifts and money from parents and relatives for undergoing the procedure. Some girls believed they would not be married without undergoing FGM.
In 2005 the Ministry of Health estimated that 5 to 15 percent of women and girls underwent FGM; their average age was less than 10 years old and reportedly included some newborns. FGM was practiced by approximately 20 of the country’s 130 tribes and was most prevalent in the mainland regions of Arusha, Singida, Kilimanjaro, Morogoro, and Dar es Salaam.
In 2009 a local government officer in Singida stated that 254 out of 1,046 women who delivered in health clinics in Manyoni District, Singida Region, were circumcised. In 2009 AFNET reported that 47 out of 59 infants and girls up to age five who attended a village clinic in Singida Region had undergone FGM. Clitoridectomy, a less severe form of FGM, was employed most frequently; however, infibulation, the most severe form, was also practiced, mainly in the northern highlands and the central zone.
The government continued to implement the 2001-15 National Plan of Action for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children, which enlisted the support of practitioners and community leaders in eradicating FGM. AFNET worked with education officers in the Serengeti to increase awareness about the negative effects of FGM. The NGO worked specifically with a group of students between the ages of 10 and 13 to help them gain the confidence to refuse the practice.
In the Mara Region, where FGM is prevalent, it was reported in November that 5,000 girls were at risk of FGM. The Tarime-based Termination of Female Genital Mutilation Society, in conjunction with the Children’s Dignity Fund, launched an educational campaign to educate girls on the health risks associated with FGM.
The law prohibits FGM, which was perpetrated on approximately 6 percent of girls, according to UNICEF. It was believed the practice had decreased significantly in urban areas since the 1998 anti-FGM law was passed. The most common form of FGM was excision, which was usually performed on girls a few months after birth. Most of the larger ethnic groups did not practice FGM. Penalties for practitioners of FGM ranged from two months to five years in prison as well as substantial fines. However, the law rarely was applied because most FGM cases occurred in rural areas where awareness of rights was limited. Traditional customs often took precedence over the legal system among certain ethnic groups. The government continued to sponsor educational seminars against FGM. Several NGOs, with international assistance, organized campaigns to educate women of their rights and on how to care for victims of FGM. NGOs also worked to create alternative labor opportunities for former practitioners.
The Sabiny ethnic group in rural Kapchorwa District and the Pokot ethnic group along the northeastern border with Kenya practiced FGM, despite local laws that prohibit the practice. On March 17, President Museveni signed into law the 2009 Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill. The law establishes that neither culture, religion, nor the consent of the victim are allowable defenses and establishes penalties of up to life imprisonment for the practice. The government, women’s groups, and international organizations continued to combat the practice through education. These programs, which received some support from local leaders, emphasized close cooperation with traditional authority figures and peer counseling. On July 29, the Constitutional Court declared the practice of FGM unconstitutional.
Despite the government ban, thousands of girls were subjected to FGM over the year, with one newspaper article reporting that approximately 820 girls were subjected to the practice in December alone in the districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo, Kween, and Amudat. The police arrested several individuals involved in promoting the ritual. For example, on November 31, police arrested Jennifer Katungo, Patrick Chemonges, Flora Chebet, Juliet Chesewa, and Isaac Chemonges for their involvement in FGM practice in Binyiny subcounty, Kween District. Hearing of the case was pending. In December police arrested four girls under the age of 16 and five parents for their involvement in an FGM ritual in Kween District. The girls were released after questioning, and the parents were sentenced to two months community service. In December police in Bukwo District arrested Margret Chemutai, Brunei Chematene, Boniface Kabunga, and Julius Malinga for practicing FGM. On December 8, Chemutai pled guilty and was sentenced to four months in prison for circumcising eight girls. Chematene, Kabunga, and Malinga pled not guilty and were remanded to prison pending hearing of the case.
The law prohibits female genital mutilation (FGM), but it was a pervasive practice in the coastal areas on infants less than 40 days old. Although government health workers and officials discouraged the practice, women’s groups reported FGM rates as high as 90 percent in some coastal areas, such as Mahara and Hudeidah. The WNC and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Guidance provided a manual for religious leaders on women’s health issues, including the negative health consequences of FGM.