Fresh FGM concerns raised

Kisangura primary school pupils in Serengeti district Mara region boys and girls demonstrate in  fight female genital mutilation (FGM).The practice has always  been taking place in December  when the pupils are on leave. PHOTO|FILE

What you need to know:

  • It was a good idea and has saved thou-sands of young girls from suffering health and psychological effects of the practice.
  • Some tribes, however, still cannot let go of the tradition, which has claimed the lives of a lot of girls.

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania is among the nations that outlawed the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for girls below the age of 18.

It was a good idea and has saved thou-sands of young girls from suffering health and psychological effects of the practice.

Some tribes, however, still cannot let go of the tradition, which has claimed the lives of a lot of girls.

Nonetheless, fresh concerns are abound over what happens to the girls who are above the stated age. The law is silent.

The Penal Code (Cap 169A), section 158 of the law of the Child 2009 provides for the protection of children under the age of 18, but it states nothing about those who have crossed the aforementioned age.

The silence of the law for those above 18 is a serious cause for concern for gender and human rights activists.

They want the government to amend the law in order to protect all girls and women from FGM.

Activists disclosed recently that some women, who are above 18 years, are forced to go for FGM because of pressure from husbands, in-laws, and the society so as to qualify for inheritance.

It is for this purpose that the Legal and Human Right Centre (LHRC) has designed a project that would help in the fight against the FGM practices.

The institution has conducted a base-line study in selected areas in order to find out the extent to which girls/women above the age of 18 are forced to undergo female genital mutilation.

Mr Geoffrey Chambua, a principal researcher from LHRC, says the baseline survey was conducted in three regions namely; Mara, Singida and Manyara with a view to establishing the number of women above 18 who underwent FGM and the reasons for doing so.

Mr Chambua said Kenya and Uganda have already enacted a law that will be punishing people who, force women above 18 to undergo FGM and recently the East Africa Legislative Assembly has drafted a bill, which proposes member states to enact a law that protects women.

He, however, said although the 2016 demographic and health survey indicates that FGM has dropped by 5 per cent in Tanzania, it is still high for women above 18 years old.

LHRC has recently organised a one day workshop, which brought together government officials and activists for the purpose of giving them preliminary results from the baseline.

The preliminary survey has established that there is a big number of women over 18 years, who underwent genital mutilation against their consent following pressure from their families.

“There is a problem with the existing law. It suggest that the girls above 18 cannot be forced to undergo FGM, which is not true,” said Chambua.

Mr Chambua said the respondents told researchers that some of the women undergo mutilation when giving birth.

He said after they discovered later that they have undergone FGM and since there is no law that protects them, they find themselves losing their rights.

He added that this is happening despite the fact that the government’s ratification of a number of agreement such as the Maputo Protocol, which wanted all member countries to formulate laws that protect all acts of violence against women.

For her part executive director for an NGO working with communities for positive change, Ms Sarah Mwanga said forcing a woman to undergo FGM is in contravention with human rights.

Ms Mwaga said activists and various organisations have done a very good job in defending the rights of girls by preventing them from undergoing FGM.

Senior community development officer from the ministry of Health Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Mr Emmanuel Burton said in order to avoid the FGM, there is a need a mind-set change among the members of the society.

He said should the people fail to change outdated views and consider the negative impact of FGM, the problem will continue to exist.

“Even if the government decides to en-act laws to prohibit FGM for girls above 18 years old, the society needs to change. If the society upholds its beliefs, these incidents will continue,” he said.

LHRC Programme Officer, Women and Children Naemy Silayo said there is a step up education for the people in the communities where FGM is rampant.

She said the people may abandon their traditions if proper education is provided to them, adding that they need to be aware that they violate human rights when upholding traditions that hurt women.

“We need to talk to women themselves who are the victims. Change starts from themselves, they should drop misconceptions that they can’t be married their genitals being mutilated,” she said.

A recent report from the National Bureau of Statistic (NBS) through the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey, FGM report on 2015/16, shows that Manyara region is being reported to have high number of FGM cases (58 per cent), followed by Dodoma (47 per cent), Arusha (41 per cent), Singida (31 per cent) and Mara (32 per cent).

According to WHO FGM, the practice carries serious health consequences both for the girl or woman who undergoes the procedure and for her offspring. The procedure can lead to direct medical complications.

Long-term health effects include psychological and psychosexual trauma, in-fertility, susceptibility to bacterial vaginosis, genital herpes and obstetric complications, including perinatal death.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that three million females undergo the procedure each year in Africa.

It is also estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated.

Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old.