Nine in 10 girls are cut in Sierra Leone, making it one of the countries with the highest rate of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), according to a data from the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.
FGM is widely practised in the West African nation, with many of the girls being forced to live with the consequences of having their sexual organs forcibly mutilated.
Many of them have since been suffering from fistula, maternal mortality, child mortality, infection from Aids and typhus, and post-traumatic stress.
The practice is seen as part of girls’ initiation into powerful secret societies, particularly, led by women.
But the government has now banned the practice until after its March elections to stop candidates swaying voters by paying for cutting ceremonies.
“So many politicians use initiation into secret society during campaigns to gain votes, especially those of women,” an anti-FGM campaigner Rugiatu Neneh Turay, formerly the deputy minister of social welfare, gender and children’s affairs told Reuters.
The cutting ceremonies often cost up to $200 including food, music and the cutter’s fee, Aminata Koroma, secretary of Sierra Leone’s Forum Against Harmful Practices said.
The ban on the ritual which involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia is the first of its kind during an election season. The government of Sierra Leone said the ban applies until after March 31.
Many are hoping that the ban would enable the practice to be permanently eliminated.
But global human rights group Equality Now and aid agency ActionAid, which are both working to eradicate FGM in Sierra Leone, disagree.
“This is just a political move,” Felister Gitonga of Equality Now told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It has nothing to do with protecting the rights of women.”
Sierra Leone in 2014 banned FGM following the Ebola crisis as fears were raised that the practice could spread the disease.