Forceful FGM still a challenge for young girls in Sierra Leone

August 21, 2017 By Patrick Jaiah Kamara

12 years old Mamusu Conteh narrowly escaped the chase of three giant women who were hired by her grandmother to forcefully take her to the nearby bondo bush for the initiation process.

She narrated her story to me in a shanty village called Kamranka in the Bombali District, northern Sierra Leone, after she fled from her original village to avoid being mutilated.

“My life is not safe in that village. People are hunting me for FGM against my will,” she narrated. She was rescued by some local campaigners who are advocating for the abolition of FGM in Sierra Leone.

Conteh fears members of the all-powerful female secret societies were going to break into her room with the consent of her grandmother and take her away.

Like many other Sierra Leonean children, Conteh has good reasons to be afraid as forceful mutilation is evidenced across the country, especially in the Bombali district headquarter town of Makeni, despite calls by international partners to avoid act.

The ban on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has faced stiff resistance from traditional women who saw it as a means of livelihood.

Despite a government moratorium that prohibits the initiation of children less than 18 years, the practice is still common among women in the northern town of Makeni.

A year ago, a girl below age 18 died shortly after undergoing the initiation ceremony in Makeni town, thus igniting the arrest of several soweis (FGM leaders) although they were later released.

According to Plan International, FGM also known as female circumcision, is the excision or genital cutting, comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the genital organs for non-medical reasons, mostly carried out between infancy and age 15.

The country’s Minister of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, has said the government’s focus is on children under 18, which is the age of consent under Sierra Leonean laws.

This has however, left anti-FGM campaigners divided on whether an under-18 ban will have any impact on the practice. While others believe that it is a minute step in the right direction. Some say it would create little or no impact as traditionally, parents make decision for their daughters, irrespective of their age.

According to the World Health Organisation, about 88% of women in Sierra Leone between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.

The practice as at this time is yet to be subsided. Many women that have undergone the initiation are making a comparative analysis that if their own practice is ban, then the secret society of men as well should be banned.

By all indications, banning FGM  in Sierra Leone is far from being achieved due to the entrenched attachment to the practice by a  majority of women folks in the country.