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Monday, January 4, 2010

FGM as a human right violation

December 30, 2010 By Monica Nankya, Secretary General of Uganda Para-Legal Society -

Uganda is a signatory to various human rights treaties and this has earned it a very positive image on the international scene as one of the countries that highly respect and observe human rights. However its biggest problem has always been implementation.

Women and children, given their vulnerability, have faced various human rights abuses at all levels, among which includes sexual exploitation, domestic rape, defilement, child labour, child sacrifice, domestic violence, child trafficking and female genital mutilation (FGM). However FGM has turned out to be more sensitive as the young women's health is put at risk when they undergo this practice.

Article 21 of the African Charter is on the rights and welfare of a child, protecting him/her against harmful social and cultural practices and this includes the elimination of all harmful practices affecting the welfare, dignity normal growth and development of the child.

In Africa about 140 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation (or circumcision as others would want to call it) and 2 million are subjected to it every year. Several basic human rights are violated by the procedure. These primarily include the right of physical integrity, the right to freedom from violence and discrimination and in most severe cases, the right to life.

FGM is an irreversible operation that removes part or all of a girl's external genital organs. It's performed on women but mostly done on girls between the ages of 4 and 12. The practice is performed in various ways which include just the removal of the clitoris; removal of the clitoris and surrounding labia; infibulations -where all the external genitalia are removed and the opening is stitched so that only a small hole remains; a variety of unclassified traumatic procedures of cutting, stretching or piercing performed on the external genitalia, such as cauterization by burning of the clitoris and tissue surrounding the opening of the vagina.

In Africa it is practiced in about 28 countries among which Uganda, Congo, and Kenya fall. About 15% of all women who have undergone FGM have been infibulated. This is largely done as a traditional practice that is believed to keep women chaste and make girls worthy brides.

In communities that practice it, it's believed that if a girl is not 'circumcised', her future as a wife and mother will be in jeopardy. Recently, I talked to one of my friends who is a member of the Sebei, a community which practices FGM, about how important this practice is to their girls. She told me that it's a norm that has to be fulfilled and that a girl must be 'circumcised' to protect her and her families' honour.

In addition to the above, research done by World Health Organisation involving 30,000 African women found that 'circumcised' women were 31% more likely to have a caesarean delivery, 66% higher chances of having a baby that needed to be revived and 55% more likely to have a child who died before or after birth. In addition to the physical complications, there are psychological and sexual impacts including severe trauma, depression and/or frigidity.

It is therefore imperative that the Government of Uganda totally abolishes all such inhuman practices that violate the rights of its people. To ensure this, it has to come up with appropriate laws. However, the law by itself would have limited reach.

Also the risk of FGM being conducted clandestinely can be an unwanted side effect of legislation. In all this great campaign against FGM, credit should go to the various civil society organisations that have tried to bring out a clear image of the scourge. I would like to encourage them to continue with their advocacy and lobby strategies mostly at government level in order to help put an end to this dreadful practice.