Urgent Effort Underway to Prevent Imminent Circumcision of More Than 150 Girls in Uganda

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Urgent Effort Underway to Prevent Imminent Circumcision of More Than 150 Girls in Uganda

Jodi Jacobson

Advocates are working strenuously to stop or limit the mass mutilation of up to 200 girls now underway in Uganda.

In November, leaders in the Ugandan districts of Bukwo and Kapchorwa made clear their intention to perform a mass genital mutilation this month on over 200 girls despite a new law in the country banning the practice.

This week, it was believed that 150 to 200 girls from the districts had been transported to Kenya to facilitate the mass operation, but amid what may be purposeful confusion on the part of the district leaders, it now appears that the process of mutilation of these girls has begun inside Uganda. One advocate reports:

A news paper reporter is just driving from Kapchorwa here in Uganda. This other story was a cover up. He says they are circumcising them here in Uganda! They have already cut 150 girls! He took photos and videos. He witnessed the circumcision after midnight last night. Two unsterile blades on 8 girls! One poor girl was being cut with a blunt knife and had to be done over and over again.  They are planning to contnue tonight and over the weekend.

A frantic effort is now underway to stop the mass “circumcision” as it is euphemistically called, and advocates report that teams from both UNAIDS and UNICEF are en route to the districts to try and stop it.

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The Ugandan Parliament passed a law last December banning FGM. President Yoweri Museveni signed it into law on March 17, 2010 and it took effect on April 9, 2010.

According to AllAfrica.com:

The law argues that FGM infringes on the rights of the woman and also leads to health hazards, including excessive bleeding, death, birth complications and exposure to illnesses. The law criminalises the practice, calls for prosecution of offenders and protection of victims. Anyone caught doing it faces 10 years in jail or life imprisonment if the victim dies.

AllAfrica.com also reported that last month the elders swore “that the whole tribe would rather go to prison than abolish a custom they inherited from their ancestors.”

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a tradition among the Sabiny in Uganda. FGM refers to the removal of the external female genitalia, i.e. the clitoris, labia, and other portions of the genitalia. The United Nations Population Fund has extensive materials on the practice, and approaches to end FGM.

The vice-chairman of Bukwo district, John Chelangat, told AllAfrica.com that:

“over 200 girls are being prepared for the practice beginning on December 1 and neither he nor other political leaders are able to stop it. The men like it because circumcised women are less interested in sex and are, therefore, less likely to have extramarital affairs. The girls do not want to be considered outcasts, so they go for the knife.”

As in other countries, including the United States, women’s rights, health, and lives are considered fair game for male political ambitions:

“This is a very sensitive period and no politician will talk about abolishing FGM because we shall lose votes. Myself, I will not talk about FGM because I know this will land me into the political dustbin,” says Chelangat.

Translation: If I step up and do the right thing to prevent 200 girls from being mutilated for the rest of their lives, I might lost my political seat.

Still in some quarters, education and advocacy efforts to stop this horrific practice have taken hold:

Alice Chemutai, 17, another resident of Matibeyi, was convinced by her aunt to undergo female circumcision. But because she is educated she refused and her father supported her.

She recites an endless list of young girls who have dropped out of school to get married after the ritual and those who have had birth complications, bleeding and infections after.

“I will never get circumcised because this will not only infringe on my rights of womanhood but will also expose me to long-term health hazards. I am happy my father and mother support me against other relatives,” adds Chemutai, a Senior Three student at Amananga High School in Suam.

International and Ugandan groups have been working strenuously to prevent this mass mutilation from taking place.  We are in contact with advocates on the ground and will report back as new information becomes available.