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Sierra Leone: UN Rights Experts Demand Tougher Anti-FGM Laws

H.E Ms. Reem Alsalem                                                      Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz                                              Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng UN-appointed independent human rights experts on Wednesday called for stronger measures to prevent and penalise Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone.

Three experts issued a statement condemning female genital mutilation as a grave form of violence against women and girls that amounts to torture in the country. The experts who signed the statement are Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The UN experts made the call following criminal proceedings about the death of a 21-year-old student who was subject to brutal practice in the Bonthe District of the West African country. FGM, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.  According to reports, the criminal proceedings against one of the perpetrators charged with FGM that led to the death of the student have been impeded by the systemic failure to protect women and girls. ‘The lack of dedicated and enforceable legislation that expressly criminalises and punishes female genital mutilation is hindering judicial or other investigation into and persecution of these harmful practices and unlawful killings, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement.    

 ‘Laws and policies need to provide clear accountability frameworks and disciplinary sanctions with respect to female genital mutilation. The UN experts urged the government of Sierra Leone to establish a comprehensive set of legal prohibitions, including amending the Child Rights Act, to explicitly prohibit the FGM practice. ‘Sierra Leone is taking concrete and meaningful steps towards advancing human rights, including through the recent abolition of capital punishment.

The government’s response to female genital mutilation will be a testament to whether such commitment can extend to women’s rights, they added. Sierra Leone has one of the highest FGM prevalence rates in Africa, with 83 percent of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 having undergone the procedure, according to the 2019 Demographic Health Survey.

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