Renewed Demands to Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, a country where female genital mutilation (FGM) is legally permitted, the tragic deaths of three girls following FGM procedures have reignited international conversations about the controversial practice. Advocates are pressuring the government to enact stricter legislation criminalizing FGM to protect the rights and health of girls and women. This has sparked a wider debate on human rights, cultural traditions, and the role of government in enforcing laws to prevent harmful practices.

FGM Prevalence in Sierra Leone

FGM is widespread in Sierra Leone, with 61% of women aged 15-19 having undergone the procedure. The practice is not only deeply rooted in cultural and societal norms but is also part of the initiation rites into the all-women Bondo Society. The World Health Organization warns that FGM carries no health benefits, leading to severe complications, and in some tragic cases, death. In January 2024, three girls aged 12, 13, and 17, died from complications associated with FGM, sparking renewed outcry and calls for change.

International Pressure and Local Response

Following the deaths, UN human rights experts have urged for stronger measures to penalize FGM in Sierra Leone. The lack of specific legislation hinders legal proceedings, with the government now facing increased pressure to amend the Child Rights Act to explicitly outlaw FGM for all age groups. Traditional leaders, such as Chief Pa Alimamy Conteh, are being called upon to aid in ending female genital mutilation. The Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs has responded to these tragic incidents, vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Alternatives and Initiatives

Activists propose an alternative rite of passage as a solution to combat FGM in Sierra Leone. Organizations like the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP) are advocating for criminalizing FGM and piloting FGM-free initiation ceremonies, known as Alternative Rites or Bloodless Bondo. This approach aims to preserve cultural traditions while eliminating harmful practices. Simultaneously, a continent-wide initiative, the Born Perfect caravan, hopes to invigorate anti-FGM advocacy across 20 African countries by spanning approximately 7,400 miles.

Challenges and Way Forward

Despite international condemnation and Sierra Leone’s ratification of international pledges to combat gender-based violence, including FGM, in 2015, the practice remains legal. Approximately 83% of Sierra Leonean women aged 15 and over have undergone FGM, indicating the depth and pervasiveness of the tradition. Poverty, gender discrimination, and lack of education continue to perpetuate the practice, while the secrecy and taboo surrounding FGM prevent communities from addressing it.

While the road to eradicating FGM in Sierra Leone is fraught with obstacles, these tragic deaths have brought renewed attention and urgency to the matter. With international and local pressure mounting, it is hopeful that Sierra Leone will take definitive action against FGM, ensuring the protection and health of its girls and women. The conversation around FGM is not just about laws and cultural practices, but fundamentally about human rights, dignity, and the wellbeing of girls and women.


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