UGANDA: 'Surgeons' Want Compensation Before They Lay Down Their Knives

WITH the high rate of unemployment in Uganda, it is sometimes hard to imagine that on a good day, someone can earn up to sh800,000 a day.

It is even harder when that person is an illiterate old woman of over 60 years. And yet, this is a true story in the areas of Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts.

Except that for these old women, they are making money off the suffering of many of the young girls in this region. These women are the "experts" in circumcising girls in a practice known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

For every girl cut, the surgeon is paid sh50,000, while those who are already married pay sh80,000. On a good day, a surgeon can perform over 10 surgeries.

According to figures with the Kapchorwa Local Government, there are about 100 mentors in Kapchorwa district, while Bukwo has 50. According to Sabiny culture, the mentors are highly regarded senior women who prepare young girls, normally 14 years old, to undergo genital mutilation.

Eunice Chesiro, one of the mentors, who is championing the campaign to end the outdated practice among the Sabiny, recently visited Parliament in the company of five others to meet the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga. This group has decided to destroy their implements of destruction - the knives that are used to mutilate the girls.

Speaking through a translator, Chesiro told Kadaga: "It is our work to delude the girls through some kind of performances so they gain the courage to face the knife."

However, regardless of how much money these women make, sooner or later they are going to dump their only source of livelihood because the practice is outdated, barbaric and a violation of human rights. It is internationally considered an abuse of women's rights.

While appearing on 94.8 Vision Voice radio recently, Kiinkizi East MP Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, who is working on a private members' bill to ban FMG said: "The consequences of this practice are very grave, to the extent that all of us must get involved, that's why we have drafted a private member's bill that seeks to criminalise it."

"The immediate complication is severe bleeding, sometimes to death. Those who do not die immediately get long term complications like the scars which develop around their genital organs. They face problems during childbirth, sex is very painful and traumatic, and an increased risk of HIV/AIDS and other infections."

According to Kadaga, over 500 girls have died as a result of the practice since the 1960s. Beatrice Chelangat, the programme manager of reproductive educative and community health in Kapchorwa, says recently, three women became crippled after they had been cut.

Baryomunsi says the proposed law against FGM will see anyone involved in the act sentenced to jail for up to 10 years. "We as MPs have been concerned about this practice and we feel that we should move and be able to come up with a law which will criminalise this act and abolish FGM," he says.

"Any person who violates or attempts to violate the physical integrity of the female genital organ or one who causes the grievous harm or anyone who aids, abets, cancels or procures a person to perform any of those acts should be liable under our law and we are suggesting imprisonment of about seven years," Baryomunsi adds.

The legislators are determined to fast track the law against the practice amidst clear challenges that they have to sail against. Kadaga said: "It is still an up-hill task to abolish completely in the region and the world because in countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Senegal, almost 90% of the women go through mutilation."

She adds that many of the surgeons come from neighboring Kenya at night, circumcise the girls, then run back to their country. She says for Uganda to successfully fight the practice, the cooperation of neighbouring countries has to be sought.

Still, she has vowed to fast track the law making process, to make sure that it succeeds next year. The Attorney General, according to Kadaga, has promised that the law will be in place by March next year.

Other major challenges for the Parliament and Government is how to get these women an alternative income project, given that they make a lot of money from their work, and the political implications of bringing down the culture of a people.

In the 2001 Parliament, Jane Frances Kuka, then a minister and MP for Kapchorwa District, lost her seat because of her opposition to the practice in her culture. Similar fears are still expressed among local politicians in the area.

Moses Mwanga, the district council speaker of Kapchorwa Local Government said he has sacrificed his job at the expense of the campaign against FGM. "It is important that we first mobilise the community so that they appreciate the magnitude of the problem," he said.

"The worst are the elders in the community who put so much pressure on the women. They need total sensitisation." One of the women told Kadaga: "We have gone through a lot of pain and we have now agreed to abandon the job completely. But we need assistance."

With an ordinance already in place, passed by the Kapchorwa District Local Government and waiting approval by Parliament, the responsibility to assist this community and put an end to one of the most outdated and barbaric acts against human rights, now rests with Government, if the law can help.


AUTHOR: Charles Odongtho

URL: Click here

DATE: 07/01/2009

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