UGANDA: Life Imprisonment Awaits Those Who Circumcise Ladies

Christmas merry making may have come a little early for gender rights' activists in the country after Parliament yesterday passed a new law that outlaws and criminalises female genital mutilation.

The new law, a private member's Bill drawn up by Kinkizi East MP Chris Baryomunsi, hands down a series of stern punishments to perpetuators of the crime, a maximum 10- year sentence and life imprisonment for those who commit aggravated female genital mutilation (FGM).

The Bill says a person commits aggravated FGM in situations where death occurs as a result of the act or where a victim suffers disability or is infected with the HIV virus.

It defines FGM as the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-therapeutic reasons.

The practice is mainly carried out in Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts in eastern Uganda.

It was clear from the outset that Dr Baryomunsi would find little trouble garnering support from both sides of the House over an issue abhorred world over and deemed a gross violation of the human rights of girls and women.

For a Bill that was first tabled in September, yesterday's enactment of the new law was telling of the degree of unanimity on an issue that has pitted tradition against civil liberties.

Unanimous support

Not a single MP spoke against the Bill, much to the delight of Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.

The Kamuli Woman MP has been at the forefront of the gender crusade against female circumcision.

President Museveni has also spoken out against the practice and recently launched a campaign against it in Nakapiripirit District.

Ms Kadaga chaired yesterday's plenary and it was evident there would be little hurdle en-route to passing, steering the House through a marathon session, some five hours, before the new law was enacted.

Ms Kadaga could barely hide her excitement after the Bill's passing.

"I want to thank you for travelling this very long journey," she said, "Now what remains is implementation."

MP after MP told of sordid tells of the act, some describing it as a "primitive tradition," while others referred to it as "torture in the name of culture."

In his quest to win support for the Bill, Dr Baryomunsi attempted to show MPs a video illustrating the cruelty associated with FGM but was quickly halted in his tracks by several MPs who agreed in unison that the sight of the act would traumatise them.

"The Lord was not stupid to put it the way he did," said Ngora MP Francis Epetait. "All those accessories had their purpose. It is very stupid for man to claim to be wiser than God."

"I have never been traumatised my whole life," reported MP Margaret Muhanga as she testified to her witness of FMG. "They used a sharp stone and cut off the girl's clitoris...Imagine your daughter being treated like that."


AUTHOR: Emmanuel Gyezaho

URL: Click here

DATE: 14/12/2009

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