Authorities in Sierra Leone are currently conducting an investigation into the fatalities of three young girls who were subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).
According to reports from the local area, three individuals, Adamsay Sesay (12 years old), Salamatu Jalloh (13 years old), and Kadiatu Bangura (17 years old), lost their lives during initiation rites in the North West province of the country last month.
Aminata Koroma, the executive secretary of FAHP (Forum Against Harmful Practices), which aims to eradicate FGM (female genital mutilation) in Sierra Leone, stated that the parents of the affected girls and their perpetrators are currently under police custody.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, and is considered a violation of women’s and girls’ human rights. In 2012 the UN passed a resolution to ban it, but it is still practised in about 30 countries.
Next month, Unicef will release updated statistics on the global prevalence of FGM. However, current estimations indicate that at least 200 million females have been victims of this practice.
Although activists and human rights advocates have urged for the criminalization of this practice, it is still considered legal in Sierra Leone. According to a 2019 national survey, 83% of women have undergone FGM, which is a small decrease from 90% in 2013.
The process is a component of a customary ceremonial practice that signifies a young girl’s transition into adulthood. It is conducted by soweis, experienced members of the exclusively female Bondo secret societies.
The FAHP is pushing for a legislation that would make FGM a criminal offense. They are also actively promoting alternative rites of passage that do not involve this harmful practice. In the previous year, the group successfully tested FGM-free initiation ceremonies in three regions and plans to expand the trial to two more this year. According to Koroma, the outcomes have been highly positive.
She stated that there are various beneficial factors within the Bondo communities. They educate girls on the healing properties of plants and preserve the traditions of our culture. Our motto is, “Embrace Bondo, reject cutting.”
Studies have revealed that the most successful ceremonies to prevent FGM are still those led by soweis.
Koroma stated that when meeting with soweis, they frequently express that FGM serves as a significant means of income for them. The ceremony itself can cost families anywhere from $300 to $400 and typically lasts three weeks. It is crucial for us to find a substitute for this practice.
She stated, “Attitudes towards FGM are shifting, but it is a slow process. Although I doubt I will witness the complete elimination of FGM in my lifetime, I am hopeful for the younger generation. They hold the potential to put an end to it.”
In 2021, a 21-year-old woman named Maseray Sei from Bonthe district in southern Sierra Leone passed away due to complications from undergoing FGM. The practitioner responsible for performing the procedure was charged with manslaughter, but the case was dismissed due to a mistake in the medical report regarding Sei’s death.
Divya Srinivasan, the head of the NGO Equality Now’s efforts to eradicate harmful practices, stated that it is unacceptable that women and girls are still dying from FGM in Sierra Leone. She expressed disappointment with the government’s lack of action and unwillingness to prevent these deaths or outlaw the practice.