By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The Forum Against Harmful Practices and Equality Now are calling for a thorough investigation into the deaths of three girls who lost their lives while undergoing Female Genital Mutilation during secret society initiation ceremonies as well as demanding justice stressing that affirmative action must be taken against the perpetrators.
This came in the wake of reports that three girls lost their lives in January of 2024 to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone. The deaths occurred in the Kambia District and according to Police Chief Superintendent, Abu Bakarr Magona, one of the victims was Salamatu Jalloh, 13 years old and was one of eight girls being “initiated” in Kabailor village.
The other victim is said to be Kadiatu Bangura, aged 17, from Bubuya whom local reports say was “forcefully initiated” and buried before the Police arrived. A Police Officer, Claudius Moses Gray, has stated that the Police are investigating into the matter.
A 12 year old girl by the name of Adamsay Sesay is furthermore reported as a victim that succumbed to death in January, 2024 to FGM in that part of the country but details surrounding her case were not provided.
It could be recalled that it was also reported in December 2021, that a 21-year-old woman by the name of Maseray Sei died as a result of FGM. The alleged perpetrator of carrying out the FGM, a Sowei, known as Sowoh Sandy was arrested, and the case went to trial, but a Magistrate discharged the case in October 2023 over alleged issues with the medical report. The issue was highlighted in an earlier publication titled: “Family Demands Justice as FGM Practitioner Evades Charges Due to Language Error in Medical Report”.
Equality Now and its Sierra Leone partners are working on a legal appeal of the case. The organization is calling for perpetrators to be held to account and for the Government of SL to criminalize FGM.
Police in Sierra Leone are investigating the deaths of three girls who underwent female genital mutilation (FGM).
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 practiced in about 30 countries.
UNICEF will publish new figures on its global prevalence next month, but current estimates show at least 200 million women and girls have been subjected to FGM.
Despite calls from activists and human rights advocates for the practice to be criminalized – including from the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls – it remains legal in Sierra Leone. A national survey in 2019 found that 83% of women had undergone FGM, a slight drop from 90% in 2013.
The procedure is part of a traditional initiation ritual that marks a girl’s entry into womanhood and it is carried out by Soweis, senior members of the all-women Bondo Secret Societies.
Rugiatu Neneh Turay, the Chairperson of the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP), an organization working to end FGM in Sierra Leone, said the girls’ parents and those who cut them were in police custody.
FAHP is lobbying for a law that would criminalize FGM, and is working to promote alternative rite-of-passage ceremonies that forgo the practice. Last year, the organization piloted FGM-free initiation ceremonies in three districts, and it hopes to extend the trial to two more this year. “The results have been very encouraging,” Rugiatu Turay revealed.
“There are many positive aspects of the Bondo Society,” she said. “They teach girls about medicinal properties of plants and pass down the history of our culture. Our slogan is, ‘Say yes to Bondo, no to cutting.’”
Research has found that the most effective FGM-free ceremonies are still those facilitated by the Soweis.
“When we meet with Soweis they often say that FGM is an important source of income for them,” Aminata Koroma said. “Families can spend between $300 and $400 on the whole ceremony, which lasts three weeks. We have to be able to replace it with something else.”
She added, “People’s minds about FGM are changing but it is a gradual change. I don’t think I will see FGM completely eradicated in my lifetime, but I am very optimistic about the new generation. They will be the ones to end it.”
Divya Srinivasan, who leads on ending harmful practices at the NGO Equality Now, said: “It is completely unacceptable that despite women and girls continuing to die from FGM in Sierra Leone, there remains complete apathy from the Government and an unwillingness to take desperately needed action to prevent these deaths or prohibit the practice.