UK must channel aid to fight FGM in Sierra Leone: lawmakers

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[October 02, 2014]  By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain must set up a program to tackle female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone, where the practice is seen as a prerequisite for marriage and even used as a political tool, a parliamentary committee said.

The International Development Committee said on Thursday it was astounded that Britain – which has put itself center stage in global efforts to eradicate FGM – had left Sierra Leone out of its £35 million program to help end FGM in Africa.

"It concerns us greatly that Sierra Leone - the UK's largest per capita bilateral recipient of aid - does not currently have a single UK-funded program to curb female genital mutilation when this country has one of the highest prevalence in the world of this barbaric practice," committee chairman Sir Malcolm Bruce said.

He called on Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) to act immediately.

Nearly 90 percent of women in Sierra Leone have undergone FGM, a ritual involving the partial or total removal of the genitalia. The vaginal opening is sometimes also sewn up.

An estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide are affected by FGM, most of them in Africa. Many countries are now trying to stop the practice which can cause serious physical and psychological problems.

However, experts say it is particularly difficult to tackle FGM in Sierra Leone because it is performed by secret women's societies that wield enormous clout.

In the report, one children's charity described some girls running away from home and living on the streets to avoid being mutilated.


British FGM campaigner Alimatu Dimonekene, who grew up in Sierra Leone, said politicians were complicit in the practice.

"It is a well-known fact that some politicians sponsor state cutting of girls as a form of gaining the trust of a community and in turn votes during election campaigns," the report quoted her as saying.

"Any politician who criticizes the practice… is unlikely to win the election."

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One Sierra Leonean woman told the committee during its visit to the west African country that a government minister had threatened her after she spoke out about FGM.

International aid agency GOAL urged Britain to use its position as the largest donor in Sierra Leone to lobby for action at the highest government levels.

According to DFID, Sierra Leone was not included in the £35 million program partly because of its low political commitment.

International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone told the inquiry the FGM initiative should be led by African countries, adding, "we cannot turn into imperialist finger-wagging Brits".

One FGM survivor quoted in the report suggested including FGM in the school curriculum to empower girls to say no and help dispel myths such as the belief that having sex with an uncut woman leads to impotence.

(Reporting by Emma Batha, Editing by Alisa Tang)

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