Sierra Leone government to ban female circumcision

Sierra Leone

February 4, 2008

FREETOWN (AFP) — The new government in Sierra Leone has vowed to outlaw female circumcision, a common practice in the West African country, the social welfare minister said Monday.

Minister Haja Musu Kandeh said the government "has an expressed commitment to ban the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM)."

She did not state when the ban would take effect.

"Female genital mutilation is a harmful practice and my government...will work to eradicate it in this country," Musu Kandeh said at an event organised by a local anti-FGM group, the National Movement for the Emancipation of FGM.

"The practice is a fundamental violation of human rights as some women and girls may not have expressed their consent to undergo the practice," she said.

Between 35 and 40 percent of women in the country undergo circumcision, she said, traditionally believed to control female sexuality and make girls more "marriageable."

But several FGM practitioners were swift to criticise the upcoming ban.

"It is our culture and we should be allowed to continue it," circumciser Mamy Vandi said.

Another worried about loosing her livelihood.

"This is how I make my living. If they take it away from me, I shall be a pauper overnight," she said.

Still carried out in 28 African countries according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM often causes infection and sometimes death.

Overall, between 100-140 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide, the WHO reports. Some three million girls yearly are at risk of infection, the agency says.

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