Chiefs ban genital cutting for girls under 18

April 19, 2009 | IRIN | Online here

Ceremonial knives owned by members of the women's Bondo society. Photo by Bryna Hallam/IRIN

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – In Sierra Leone village chiefs, community members and women who perform female genital cutting have signed an agreement stating that girls in northern Kambia district will not undergo genital mutilation – or ‘cutting’ – before age 18.

The number of girls being cut during the December 2008-January 2009 initiation season in Kambia dropped drastically, according to Finda Fraser, advocacy coordinator at local non-profit Advocacy Movement Network (AMNet), which runs a ‘Say No to Child Bondo’ campaign in the district.

Most Sierra Leonean girls – the World Health Organization estimates 94 percent – are initiated at puberty into ‘Bondo’, also known as the Sande Secret Society. As part of the rite, a woman known as a ‘sowei’ in the Mende language cuts the clitoris and prepares the girl for adulthood through singing, dancing and teaching domestic skills. For the initiation girls spend up to three months in the bush.

Anti-FGM/C campaigner John Marah, chairman of NaMEP, a network of Sierra Leone-based NGOs, told IRIN: “We are against just the cutting, not the training. You can still have a rite of passage. It’s just a change of mentality.” Continue reading →

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‘My mother gave me to them’

Marion Kargbo stands at a balcony in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Marion Kargbo was 18 when she was forced to marry a rebel soldier in Sierra Leone. Photo by Bryna Hallam/IRIN

FREETOWN, 26 February 2009 (IRIN) – Marion Kargbo was 18 when she was forced to marry a soldier of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in January 1999, in the middle of Sierra Leone’s civil war. Ten years later, RUF leaders have been found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including forced marriage – the first time a court has treated the offence as a crime separate from sexual slavery.

According to local NGOs many women and girls associated with the rebel forces, especially those not in fighting roles, were excluded from the official disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process whereby ex-combatants received money and training to help them re-enter civilian life.

This is her story, as told to IRIN:

On January 6, 1999, the rebels came to [the capital] Freetown. …The rebels came to burn the [family] house and capture us. Before they set the house on fire, they demanded my mother hand over one of her children. If she didn’t, they would kill us all.

My mother gave me to them. Continue reading →

‘Forced marriage’ conviction a first

RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay was charged for war crimes by the Special Court on 25 February 2009.

RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay was charged for war crimes by the Special Court on 25 February 2009. Photo courtesy Special Court for Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, 26 February 2009 (IRIN) – The Special Court for Sierra Leone on 25 February convicted three former leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), marking the first time a court has convicted on the charge of “forced marriage”.

After a four-year trial, the tribunal found former RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay and RUF commander Morris Kallon guilty on 16 of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and former RUF chief of security Augustine Gbao on 14 counts. Continue reading →