Sierra Leone: End impunity for female genital mutilation, say UN experts

Geneva, 24 August, 2022.- UN human rights experts* today called for stronger measures to prevent and penalise female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone, following criminal proceedings about the death of a 21-year-old student who was subject to the brutal practice in the Bonthe District.

“Female genital mutilation is a grave form of violence against women and girls that amounts to torture. It violates the fundamental rights of its victims, including their physical integrity and rights not to be subject to torture or other cruel treatment and to life, sexual and reproductive health,” the experts said.

“Discriminatory customs are entrenched in social norms and configurations of power, inevitably tied to one’s status and place in communities. Much like other harmful practices of similar nature, female genital mutilation reflects and perpetuates a broader trend of gender inequality,” they said.

“Female genital mutilation can neither be normalised nor used as a justification to invoke sociocultural and religious customs to the detriment of the wellbeing of women and girls,” the experts said. “They must be construed in line with the broader trend of gender-based violence, which simply cannot continue with impunity.”

According to reports, the criminal proceedings against one of the perpetrators charged with female genital mutilation that led to the victim’s death have been impeded by the systemic failure to protect women and girls.

“The lack of a 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 experts said.

“Laws and policies need to provide clear accountability frameworks and disciplinary sanctions with respect to female genital mutilation,” they said.

The UN experts urged the Government of Sierra Leone to establish a comprehensive set of legal prohibitions, including through strengthening the memoranda of understanding with local practitioners and amending the Child Rights Act to explicitly prohibit the performance of female genital mutilation to girls under the age of 18.

They welcomed the President’s announcement on the intention to unanimously support a bill on risk-free motherhood, which will help improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls.

“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,” the experts said.

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