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Prosecuting The Demons Of Female Genital Mutilation 

By Yerima Kini Nsom

"My mother joined other people in my village to declare me persona non-grata and an incomplete woman. She told me that any woman, who has not been circumcised, could not be considered a woman," Habiba, one of the victims of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, testified in an interview with The Post in Yaounde recently.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she narrated her ordeal. Hear her: "My mother held me later and some old women slashed off my clitoris with a sharp knife. I had profuse bleeding and survived only by the grace of God." Habiba was barely 15 when the FGM ritual was performed on her.

Yet another victim from the Ejagham tribe in the Manyu Division of the Southwest Region told an assembly of Female MPs at the National Assembly that she has never enjoyed sex since she was circumcised with the complicity of her husband. These two victims represent thousands of women and girls that undergo the FGM violence.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, "FGM is the partial and total removal of the external female genital organs and or all interventions on female genital organs for non-medical reasons." It is a heinous practice in certain communities in Cameroon that causes severe pain and bleeding. FGM is a grave danger to the female sexual organ; it causes infections and life-long depression. In some cases victims die.

Campaign Against FGM

The Cameroon Young Jurists Legal Resource Centre condemns FGM as an unhealthy and ruinous practice perpetuated not only through obsolete customs and traditions, but by way of practitioners for whom it is a source of income. The victims of such a dangerous practice are mostly young girls. Its practitioners tell their victims that FGM is the only way of initiating young girls into womanhood. Those who practise FGM also hold that it is a way of controlling promiscuity and birth rate as well as conserving the monogamous status of women.
Human rights activists curse what they simply call "the amputation of sensitive parts of the female genitals with all the health complications that come with it."

A woman rights activist, who works with the UN Gender and Development Fund, Tilder Kumichi Ndichia, scorns FGM as an unnatural, harmful and destructive practice that ruptures the physical integrity of the female body and a grave violation of human rights. She appeals that all hands should be put on deck in order to eradicate such a human right violation. To the Manyu MP, Hon. Rose Abunaw Makia, every girl or women has a right to joyful sex and no one should try to take away this right through FGM.

Common Practice

FGM is a common practice in some traditional communities of Cameroon especially some tribes in the Southwest, the Far North and East Regions. According to studies, the incidence of FGM in the Southwest Region stands at an estimated 40 percent, while in the East and Northern Regions it stands at 60 percent.

Officials of the United Nation’s Population Fund, UNFPA, in Cameroon, hold that FGM is one of the worst forms of violence against women. That is why UNFPA has been working with the Ministry of Women Empowerment and the Family to eradicate the phenomenon.

Given that Cameroon is a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, it is incumbent on government to fight to eradicate this phenomenon in the country. Also related to government’s commitment against FGM, is the fact that Cameroon signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC, and the African Charter.

Having taken such international commitments, observers expected the government to quickly enact laws to criminalise FGM in order to discourage its perpetrators. But it has not only failed to take such an initiative, but has ironically rejected any private member bills to criminalise FGM. Some MPs led by Hon. Rose Abunaw tabled a private members bill calling for the amendment to section 222 of the penal code to include specific provision in respect of FCM.

One NGO tabled recently a bill on FGM. Section 1 of the private members bill reads: "Whoever by any means carries out any Female Genital Mutilation by removing the clitoris, prepuce or labia minora of any girl or woman shall be punished with imprisonment from 10 to 20 years."
The bill provides that when the offender engages habitually in FGM and if the victim is a minor, the punishment is life imprisonment. Life imprisonment is also recommended for an offender who practises the profession of medicine or an allied profession.

Besides, one NGO, Women in Alternative Action, has also tabled a private members bill that provides for the criminalisation of FGM in the country. This initiative comes after the former SDF Parliamentary Group leader; Hon. Joseph Mbah Ndam, failed to push through another private members bill on FGM. The majority of MPs of the ruling party rejected it. The fact that none of these bills has sailed through, casts doubt as to whether the government has the political will to out-law FGM in tandem with its international law.

During an FGM workshop at the US Embassy in Yaounde last year, the Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals said it would be difficult to proscribe the phenomenon, given that it is an age surviving cultural practice in many tribes. But, there is mounting pressure on the government to enact a law against the practice that is considered a dangerous form of violence on women.

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