Police in Sierra Leone are investigating the deaths of three girls who underwent female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes referred to as female circumcision. According to The Guardian, the girls, aged 12, 13 and 17, died during initiation rites in the country’s northwestern province.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia and is considered a violation of the human rights of women and girls. In 2012, the UN passed a resolution banning it, but it is still practiced in around 30 countries, mainly in Africa, where it is associated with ritual. According to current estimates, female genital mutilation has been performed on at least 200 million women and girls.
The executive secretary of the Forum Against Harmful Practices (FAHP), an organization working to end female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone, Aminata Koroma said the parents of the girls and those who cut them have been detained by the police.
Despite calls by activists and human rights defenders to criminalize the practice, including by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, it remains legal in Sierra Leone. According to a 2019 national survey, 83% of women had undergone FGM, down slightly from 90% in 2013.
The procedure is part of a traditional initiation ritual by which a girl enters the female state. It can often take several weeks, and the young girls’ families can come up to $400. However, international pressure and pressure from domestic activists against these practices are growing, and the death of the three young girls has only intensified it.
What is female circumcision?
- Female circumcision refers to procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other damage to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
- It is usually performed from an early age until the age of 15 years of a girl’s life.
- There are four types. One of the most severe and harmful forms involves the complete removal of the clitoris and the suturing of the labia and vagina with only a small opening for urination and menstruation. This practice has numerous immediate and long-term health consequences that affect the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls, including infections and abnormal scarring, debilitating pain, complications during childbirth, or even death from bleeding or infection after the procedure.
- Female circumcision is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights. Yet, by 2030, it is estimated that approximately 68 million women and girls worldwide will be at risk of this “procedure” and its consequences.
- According to one of the latest surveys from this year in the journal Scientific Reports, more than 44 thousand young women and girls die because of it every year. The survey included five countries where the practice is legal, namely Sierra Leone, Mali, Malawi, Chad and Liberia, and 13 other African states.
- Female genital mutilation is common in about 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, but is also practiced in some countries in Asia and Latin America and among communities originating from these regions.
- Female circumcision is illegal in the European Union. In some European countries, it is even a criminal offense if it is carried out outside the territory of the given state. Yet it is estimated that there are 600,000 women and girls in Europe who have been victims of female circumcision.
- Why? It is a combination of cultural and social reasons. Circumcision is based on the belief that female genital mutilation has a religious justification or is related to purity, fidelity and beauty. Circumcision predates the rise of Christianity and Islam and reflects deep-rooted gender inequalities in the societies in question.