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TANZANIA: Rights Group Urges Tanzania To Save Girls From Genital Mutilation

An international human rights group has asked authorities in Tanzania to save about 5,000 girls who are likely to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) this holiday season in the north-eastern Mara Region, where ethnic groups cling to the antiquated practice.

The group, Equality Now, has reported that about 250 girls had already been cut but the government, including the police, bears the responsibility to protect girls from FGM and to prevent people from breaking the law that prohibits the practice.

Though in 1998 Tanzania passed a law proscribing FGM as cruelty to girls and women, the practice is still valued by specific ethnic groups in Dodoma, Singida, Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Mara regions.

The FGM national prevalence rate is put at 14.6 per cent but it is very high in the five regions.

Under the country's Sexual Offences Special Provision Act 1998, anyone having custody, charge or care of a girl under 18 years of age who causes her to undergo FGM commits the offence of cruelty to children.

“What is the use of having a law against FGM if the government has no plans to implement it?” asked Faiza Jama Mohamed, Equality Now director of the organisation's Nairobi Office.

According to the rights body, the police in Tarime district of Mara Region have failed to prevent the offences despite being aware of the preparations undertaken by communities to conduct mass mutilations.

Several police stations house units to specifically address gender-based violence, including enforcement of the anti-FGM law but the police continue to fail to protect women and girls from FGM, Equality Now observed.

In Tarime district, for instance, there have also been no known arrests of any perpetrators related to the cases of the girls who have already been subjected to FGM.

It is estimated that over 150 girls have fled from their homes for fear of being genitally mutilated and are currently housed in local shelters.
“It is a public health and human rights crisis that the Tanzanian government is reluctant to address,” said Mohamed.

According to a 2002 survey conducted by Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), FGM is openly and defiantly practised in Tarime, with a prevalence rate of about 85 per cent among the rural female population.

The practice is performed on cohorts of girls in ceremonies that take place at least every two years in almost the entire district.

'Many girls in the district drop out of school and are married off after undergoing FGM,' Equality Now lamented, expressing fears that every day between November 2010 and January 2011, about 100 girls may be at risk of genital mutilation in Mara region.

Yet, only a handful of cases have reached the courts in recent years and the police are reluctant to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators.

While the anti-FGM law itself does not address prevention of FGM, Tanzania is a party to the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which mandates member states of the African Union to protect women and girls at risk of being subjected to harmful practices or all other forms of violence, abuse and intolerance.

“There is still time to save girls from FGM. Tanzanian authorities must take strong and immediate action in Tarime against the perpetrators and prevent further incidences from taking place,' Mohamed urged.

According to her, 'they need to send parents and circumcisers a loud and clear message that such blatant disregard for the law will not be tolerated.”

Equality Now works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world.

Its Women’s Action Network comprises more than 35,000 groups and individual members in over 160 countries.

Pana 10 december 2010

SOURCE: Afrique en ligne

URL: Click here

DATE: 17/12/2010

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