UGANDA: Crimialise Female Genital Mutilation

A group of Members of Parliament have drafted a Bill seeking to criminalise the female genital mutilation (FGM) common among communities in some parts of the country. The MPs are concerned that the Government has not taken the initiative to enact a law criminalising the FGM.

Genital mutilation is most prevalent in Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Karamoja. Studies, however, indicate that the practice also exists in Kamuli, Kamwenge, Isingiro and Masindi.

The FGM is on the rise in Karamoja, where thousands of girls aged 10 to 15 are being circumcised and then forcefully married off, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Genital mutilation involves the cutting or removal of the clitoris and other vaginal tissue, often under unsanitary conditions. According to the World Health Organisation the prevalence could be 5% in Uganda.

No doubt, FGM threatens the health of women and girls and increases their vulnerability to HIV. It also raises the risk of maternal and infant mortality, harming women's psychological, sexual and reproductive health.

The step taken by the MPs to criminalise FGM has been long overdue. It is hard to understand why up to this time there is no law in place to charge the perpetrators of genital mutilation.

So far it appears the Government has adopted a strategy of creating public awareness to persuade the communities involved to discard the practice. Obviously, the campaign has not been very successful in view of the fact that the FGM is rising among the Pokot and Tepeth in Karamoja.

Kapchorwa Local government has already passed a by-law abolishing, prohibiting and criminalising the FGM. Nonetheless, the district councils are restricted and cannot impose serious punishment for criminal offenses. Local governments, for example, cannot impose a jail term exceeding six months.

The by-law enacted by the Kapchorwa district council, therefore, cannot impose deterrent punishment. A national law must be enacted to deal with the perpetrators of this inhuman, degrading and primitive practice.


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DATE: 13/01/2009

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