For Supporting Female Genital Mutilation… Forum Against Harmful Practices Blasts MPs, Paramount Chiefs & Sowei Council Executive

By Amin Kef Sesay

In a Press Release issued by the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP) on the 13th July, 2021 and signed by Rugiatu Neneh Koroma (Nee Turay), as Chairperson, it was stated that the attention of the Civil Society Organization has been  drawn to an AYV News video making the rounds on social media, wherein, Members of Parliament, Paramount Chiefs and Sowei Council Executive Members appear to speak strongly in support of the continuation of the harmful traditional practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) of girls in the guise of supporting the Women Bondo Society.

The Forum Against Harmful Practices maintains that the support of what it described as the cruel and inhumane treatment of women and girls is being justified in the video clip on the grounds of “Bondo is our culture.”

“As a Coalition we want to draw the attention of the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and its development partners that our campaign is not against the traditions and culture of the Bondo
Society but rather against FGM/C as a practice within the Bondo Society which is a violation of the human rights of women and girls,” the Forum Against Harmful Practices succinctly pointed out.

The organization continued that it is worth noting that the National Strategy for the Reduction of FGM/C calls for abolition of FGM/C, not the Bondo Society adding how the Government of Sierra Leone has committed to “uphold the noble values of the Institution of Bondo AND recognizes that the practice of FGM/C is a health burden and a violation of the human rights of children and women”.

“We in the Coalition maintain that FGM/C does not equate to Bondo and that Bondo is not all about FGM/C,” it was categorically stated with the members of the coalition saying they were shocked at the statements in the video clip made by a female Parliamentarian and Traditional Rulers about the importance of the Bondo without addressing the issue of FGM/C.

FAHP continued to state that it wants to remind duty-bearers of their broader mandate and higher responsibility to protect the rights of all their constituents and subjects to life, to good health and opportunity to better themselves.

“Our work over the years with communities including elected officials and traditional leaders has shown that it is possible to maintain the Bondo culture without FGM/C,” the organization argued.

It argues that the Bondo Society can still serve as a place where women come for training, empowerment, sisterhood, and entertainment without the excising of genitals.

“We suggest the only reason the Sowei Council has been imposed by non-members is to exploit and divide women,” it lamented saying FAHP understands that the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs & UNICEF Sierra Leone plan to revise the Child Rights Act 2007 to insert an ‘age of consent’ provision that would make it illegal to ‘initiate’ girls (i.e. aged 18 and under) into the Bondo Society.

The FAHP affirmed that the current law in force in Sierra Leone provides that where FGM/C is perpetrated on any person, without their expressed free and informed consent, it is a serious Crime under existing statute law making references to the Offences Against the Persons Act 1881 and the Common Law.

The Organization underscored that every and any act of FGM/C done WITHOUT expressed, free and informed consent is a crime stating how girls, being children below 18, CANNOT by law consent to any serious harm against themselves including FGM/C. FGM/C on an adult without her expressed, free and informed consent .

“So too is FGM/C on a child who CANNOT by law consent and does not, in fact, know or understand enough to consent to being hurt and harmed,” it added saying any act of FGM/C on a child in Sierra Leone today is already unlawful and a crime punishable by law, now and always.

The FAHP urges that any proposed revision of the current law should be to support and strengthen ENFORCEMENT of existing laws against FGM/C of girls.

Also stated is that the Government of Sierra Leone has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and Maputo Protocol which recognise FGM/C as a harmful practice which is a human rights violation against girls and women.

Against such a backdrop, the organization said the duty to effectively address FGM/C as a harmful practice remains a core Government obligation and responsibility under those Conventions.

The Forum Against Harmful Practices ( FAHP) says it is  reiterating its belief that Consent cannot be ‘free, full and informed with regards to a harmful practice’ and as such they continue to encourage the Ministry of Gender & Children’s Affairs to not only intensify the fight to change the social and cultural conventions that perpetuate FGM/C as a part of the Bondo Society, but also to spearhead development and implementation of a national program to eliminate the practice of FGM/C from all aspects of life of Sierra Leonean women & girls.

Chairperson- FAHP.

Copies of the Press Release were sent to the following:
The Minister for Gender and Children’s Affairs,  the Clerk of the House of Parliament- Sierra Leone, the Parliamentary Anti FGM Committee, the Female Parliamentary Caucus, the Parliamentary Health Committee, the Parliamentary Gender Committee, the Minister of Information and Communications, the Minister of Health and Sanitation, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the Minister of Political and Public Affairs, the Inspector General- Sierra Leone Police, the Human Rights Commission, All Political Parties, Coalition of Political Parties, the President- Inter Religious Council, the Chairman- National Council of Paramount Chiefs ,Office of the First Lady, Irish Aid, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women,UN Resident Coordinator, US Embassy, EU, DFID, British High Commission, German Embassy, Amnesty International and Media Houses.


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