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No let-up in Female Genital Mutilation

No let-up in Female Genital Mutilation

On my way to Freetown in the early hours of 28th of May (around 6:15am), I saw a group of people (about 30) at a stream in a neighborhood called Fulawan in Bo city. When I got closer to them I realized they were a group of women trying to bathe some nine children who were already naked and they aged between three to ten years. When they noticed me coming too close to them they tried to stop me but I refused. As if my presence tormented them, they tried to get to me but I knew what was coming so I quickly took to my heels in a bid to protect my dear life. While running away, I heard them heaping all sorts of insults on me and shouting slogans for me to know that they were members of the female genital mutilation (FGM) Bondo society.

Upon arrival in Freetown, I made frantic efforts to contact the local and central government officials in the region about my experience but to no avail. They were either evasive or were not ready to talk about it. When I finally contacted the Chief Administrator of the Bo City Council, Mr William Alpha, he pretended to be very busy with other official work and so could not talk to me. In a similar vein, I contacted the Complaints, Discipline and Internal Investigations Department (CDIID) at police headquarters in Freetown where two officers who spoke on condition of anonymity explained to me that the government has not made any pronouncement against FGM so there is nothing they can do. Efforts to get the Minister of Social Welfare also proved futile as officials at the ministry said he was too busy with other commitments. Asked whether I could talk to any senior official in the ministry, I was told that there was no one to talk to me.

Series of  incidents  in the  past two years  tend to make mockery of  the  Gender  Based Violence Act enacted in 2007 which states that “it is illegal to subject anybody 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”. For instance, in February 2009, four female Journalists working for the UN radio were paraded naked along the streets of Kenema for speaking about FGM on radio. In September, a 17-year old girl and her aunt had to run for their lives after Bondo women from Freetown and Kossoh vowed to lynch them for talking about FGM on radio. In December 2009, I saw some 17 under-aged FGM initiates being paraded at Dwarzack in Freetown. In May this year, a Senior Secondary School pupil (name withheld to respect the dead) of a prominent school in Bo went on a visit to Pujehun and was taken to the Bondo bush and forcefully mutilated; she reportedly passed away during the process.

Although it was not a shock for me to see those innocent children being held hostage by tradition, what is however disturbing is the refusal of government functionaries to talk about secret societies. Dozens of children are being mutilated every month all over this country including Freetown with politicians and law enforcement agents turning a blind eye, and most times with their full support.

As one expatriate working for UNICEF observed: “taking on FGM in Sierra Leone is a losing battle … we’ve done all we could to stop it but the political will is lacking”.

Echoing similar sentiments yesterday, a colleague, Henry Williams, murmured that “Presidential and Parliamentary elections are coming in 2012 so no politician is willing to take on a battle they cannot win. Opposing FGM is political suicide and no one is ready to die, not even the President”.

By Hindowa E. Saidu
Note: Hindowa Saidu is the Director of Foundation for Democratic Initiatives, a human rights Non-Governmental Organization in Sierra Leone. He can be reached at:  fdidsl@gmail.com or 076804066.

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