In the wake of the death of yet another woman in Sierra Leone due to female genital mutilation (FGM), 127 women’s rights organizations from 35 countries have signed an open letter urging the Government of Sierra Leone to criminalize FGM and protect women and girls from this harmful practice.
According to the post-mortem performed on 14 January, 21-year-old Maseray Sei died from acute bleeding and shock a day after undergoing FGM on 20 December 2021. A few days following Maseray’s death, a 15-year-old girl was admitted to the hospital for urgent treatment after sustaining serious complications due to FGM.
Sierra Leone has experienced numerous incidents like this in the past. Women and girls have been killed and harmed by FGM in recent years, and during the most recent holiday season, there were reports of hundreds of young women and girls being cut.
The 2019 Demographic Health Survey indicates that 83 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 in Sierra Leone have undergone FGM.
FGM is a human rights violation that involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or various injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The United Nations has recognized it as a form of torture, a form of violence against women and girls.
FGM can cause haemorrhaging, infections, severe pain, urinary retention, and psychological damage. FGM can also result in death as it did with Maseray Sei and other victims.
Some of the longer term effects include chronic infections, cysts, and ulcers; painful scar tissue; problems affecting the bladder, uterus, and kidneys; sexual problems; mental problems; infertility; menstrual complications; and difficulties during childbirth.
FGM is a harmful practice, but Sierra Leone’s government has failed to criminalize it. There have been no known prosecutions for FGM in Kenya, and the country’s penal code doesn’t specifically prohibit FGM. The lack of effective implementation of existing laws in Sierra Leone to protect against FGM or punish perpetrators is due to gender discrimination.
According to the group, following the deaths from FGM of 19-year-old Fatmata Turay in 2016, 10-year-old Marie Kamara, and now Maseray’s death, organizations in Sierra Leone campaigning against FGM wrote each time to the President and Attorney General in office but never received a reply. This silence is deafening.
The group said, “Of particular concern is how various politicians seeking election have made political pronouncements in support of FGM, with some even offering to pay for women and girls to be cut. Sierra Leone must urgently enact and enforce a comprehensive anti-FGM law.”
The signatories of the open letter called on President Julius Maada Bio and Attorney General Mohamed Lamin Tarawalley Esq. to urgently enact a law that explicitly bans FGM for all ages, puts in place adequate measures to protect against and eliminate FGM and gives survivors and the families of victims a means to access justice.
We strongly condemn the actions of politicians who are supporting FGM. We also commend the politicians and other duty bearers who have spoken out and taken action against this harmful practice, and we call on others to join them.
We ask the State to prosecute all offenders putting the lives of women and girls at risk. This includes a comprehensive and swift police investigation and prosecution of all those responsible for the death of Maseray Sei. It is vital that justice is served in this case, and is seen to be served so that it can deter others from committing FGM.
The group added, “Importantly, by criminalizing FGM, Sierra Leone’s government would be meeting their commitments to the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) and to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
“We, the undersigned, call on the Government of Sierra Leone to honour its national, regional, and international human rights obligations and finally fulfil its duty of care in protecting girls and women from FGM.”