Uganda to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation goes underground


As the world commemorates the International Day against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on Wednesday, the practice has gone underground in Uganda following the enactment of a stringent law.

Lukia Nakadama, minister of state for gender and cultural affairs told reporters here on Tuesday that although the law was passed in 2010, the practice has persisted though now it is underground for fear of perpetrators being reprimanded.

"FGM is a deep rooted cultural practice that requires concerted efforts to eliminate. I call upon all Ugandans to advocate against FGM so that every girl and woman enjoys their fundamental freedom to live productive and healthy and contribute to the development of their families, communities and the nation," she said.

FGM involves the cruel procedure of mutilating the genitals of young girls of 10 years and above, where the clitoris and vital parts of the vaginal opening are literally mutilated with sharp knives as the affected girls are cheered on by their mothers and fathers.

This is followed by some primitive sewing up of whatever has been left of the mutilation.

Failure for girls to undergo the cultural practice, they risks total rejection by their communities and exclusion from social functions including marriage, family and motherhood.

While less than 1 percent of Uganda's population practices FGM, the practice is widespread in the eastern and northeastern part of the country where 95 percent of the women are compelled to undergo the practice which is deemed a rite of passage into adulthood.

Foreign communities in Uganda among which include the Somalis also carry out FGM.

According to the World Health Organization, FGM not only subjects girls and women to excruciating pain, often at the hands of cutters in non-sterile conditions, but also poses serious long- term sexual and reproductive health consequences for the survivors.

In 2010 Uganda outlawed FGM and anyone convicted of the practice would face 10 years in jail or a life sentence if a victim dies.

Although the practice was banned it is still practiced by the Sabiny, some Karamojong tribes in eastern Uganda.

A number of other African nations have outlawed the customary practice, but in many of those countries FGM is still common.

According to the World Health Organization, about 3 million girls each year in Africa are at risk of genital mutilation, with up to 140 million girls and women living with the consequences of the procedure.

In Africa about 92 million girls aged 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM.

In Uganda, UN agencies and government have designed a strategy to engage grassroots community structures to raise awareness on the dangers of FGM, and to evoke the existing laws, such as the Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Act, to protect the vulnerable girls and women in the affected communities.

"Engaging community-based entities like the Sabiny and Pokot Elders Associations remains critical to raising awareness about how harmful FGM is," said Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, UN Resident Co- ordinator in Uganda said in a joint statement to mark the day.

"But this is not enough. We must strengthen their efforts by ensuring that those who forcibly subject girls and women to this cruel practice face the full force of the law."

Janet Jackson, United Nations Population Fund Country Representative said that although positive steps were recorded in 2012, much more still needs to be done.

"Last year, over 51 communities in east- and northeastern Uganda publically announced that they were abandoning FGM. We saw cutters surrender their knives to the authorities saying 'No more cutting!' Clan elders, religious leaders and even parents openly denounced FGM and protected their girls from being cut," she said.

"We need many more positive stories like this, because the continuous abuse of girls and women's rights is unacceptable, as is them having their reproductive health incessantly compromised."

The UN in December last year passed a resolution banning FGM and urged member states to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular FGM.

"Eliminating FGM requires the efforts and the commitment of a wide range of stakeholders. Besides communities, political leaders have a central role to play in disseminating strong messages on the abandonment of FGM and advocating for a better integration of FGM issues in policies, both at national and international level," said Aline Kuster-M¨¦nager, French Ambassador to Uganda.

The French embassy in partnership with the Ugandan government together with the UN agencies here is running the Joint Program on FGM. The program advocates for the elimination of FGM in Uganda.