Three girls die after FGM rituals in Sierra Leone

Police in Sierra Leone are investigating the deaths of three girls who underwent female genital mutilation (FGM).

Adamsay Sesay, 12; Salamatu Jalloh, 13; and Kadiatu Bangura, 17, died last month during initiation ceremonies in the country’s Northwest province, according to local reports.

Aminata Koroma, the executive secretary of the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP), an organization working to end FGM in Sierra Leone, said the girls’ parents and those who circumcised them were in police custody.

FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and is considered a violation of the human rights of women and girls. In 2012 the The UN has passed a resolution to ban it, but it is so still practiced in about 30 countries.

Unicef ​​will publish new figures on its global prevalence next month, but current estimates show that at least 200 million women and girls are victims of FGM.

Despite calls from activists and human rights defenders to criminalize this practice – also from the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls – it remains legal in Sierra Leone. a national survey 2019 found that 83% of women had undergone FGM, a slight decrease from 90% in 2013.

The procedure is part of a traditional initiation ritual that marks a girl’s entry into womanhood. It is carried out by anyway, senior members of the all-female Bondo secret societies.

FAHP is lobbying for a law that would criminalize FGM and is working to promote alternative rites of passage that dispense with the practice. Last year, the organization piloted FGM-free initiation ceremonies in three districts, and hopes to expand the pilot to two more districts this year. “The results were very encouraging,” said Koroma.

“There are many positive aspects of Bondo societies,” she said. “They teach girls about medicinal properties of plants and pass on the history of our culture. Our slogan is: ‘Say yes to Bondo, no to cutting.’”

Research has shown that the most effective FGM-free ceremonies are still those facilitated by the soweis.

‘When we meet Soweis they often say that FGM is an important source of income for them,” said Koroma. “Families can spend between $300 and $400 on the entire ceremony, which lasts three weeks. We have to be able to replace it with something else.”

She added: “People’s thoughts on FGM are changing, but it is a gradual change. I don’t think FGM will be completely eradicated in my lifetime, but I am very optimistic about the new generation. They will be the ones to put an end to it.”

In 2021, Maseray Sei, 21, from Bonthe district in southern Sierra Leone, died from complications after undergoing FGM. A practitioner was charged with manslaughter, but the case was dismissed due to an error in a medical report on Sei’s death.

Divya Srinivasan, who leads efforts to end harmful practices at the NGO Equality Now, said: “It is completely unacceptable that despite the fact that women and girls in Sierra Leone continue to die from FGM, there continues to be complete apathy from the government and the unwillingness to take much-needed action. take action to prevent these deaths or ban the practice.”