Pictures and stories from Sebei sub-region at the weekend indicated some women, reportedly in hundreds, were being prepared to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kween District. The daring incident is a rare one and its occurrence during a non-circumcision season raises eyebrows even more.
Circumcision among the Sabiny in eastern and a section of Karimojong in northeastern Uganda, usually happens after every two years, which elapsed on December 31, 2018. The ritual, which involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, is held as a passage to womanhood.
The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010 spells out tough penalties for anyone involved in FGM. Those who offer themselves for the knife, face up to 10 years in prison, while anyone who provides aid or takes part in the practice in any way, is liable upon conviction, to five years in prison.
Likewise, if the exercise ends in death, disability or infection with HIV/Aids, the punishment is life imprisonment.
Other countries such as Kenya (2011), and Tanzania (1998) have passed laws that seek to bring the cultural event to an end in a wider grand plan to meet the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s target of eliminating FGM by 2030. By 2017, UNFPA said more than 200 million girls and women around the world had been cut. But despite these legal frameworks coupled with physical and psychological consequences of the ritual, the practice continues.
Whereas a section of leaders in the sub-region have blamed the persistence of the outlawed practice on gangs and the elite, we need to step back and answer the more realistic questions. Why is the practice still on even with an existing law against it? Did we draft a law without seeking the stakeholders’ initiative on how to tame the vice? What is the experience of Reproductive Educative And Community Health Organisation in the fight? Where did they win, and are they now losing the battle and why?
The practice is not as rampant as it was two decades ago. Authorities in Sebei say women who have undergone the cut declined from 970 per circumcision season in 1990 to as low as 120 cases by 2012 partly due to improved literacy levels.
However, the weekend event should ring a loud bell in the powers that be. Let’s have a team on the ground to establish why this is happening and spell out – in clear terms – what the next course of action should be. FGM belongs in the past.