Liberia: Rights Group Demands Justice for FGM Survivor

The forceful initiation of an 11-year-old girl into the Sande Society in Margibi County that resulted in her being inflicted with Fistula has been denounced by the Civil Society National Reference Group on the Spotlight Effort, an EU-funded initiative. 

On September 15,  when the victim and other children went out to sell, they never anticipated getting initiated. Curiosity about the Sande girls’ dance was piqued by the adjacent sounds of drums and sassas, which led to their kidnapping. According to a Frontpage Africa report, upon the order of the head Zoe, Famatta Musa, all female onlookers were seized by a group of women from the Sande Society and circumcised the next day. 

Tamba F. Johnson, chairperson of the Civil Society National Reference Group, said based on the intervention of Rev. Tour and other activists, the victim was recused on October 3, 2022, and taken to hospital. “Though it is true traditionalists have resolved to continue their ancestral practice, particularly FGM, however, respect for the rights of women and girls must be considered and respected. No person has the right to dehumanize, conscript, abuse or violate any woman or girl in adherence to ancestral practice, simply because they came in contact with a practical performance.”

He claims that in July 2020, the UN Human Rights Council passed Resolution 44/16 on the elimination of female genital mutilation, reinforcing the worldwide ban on the destructive practice as a grave violation of women's rights.

The Maputo Protocol’s Article 5 and Article 5b of Liberia’s 1986 Constitution are both supported by this UN demand. 

Laurent Delahousse, the ambassador of the European Union to Liberia, stated that he agrees with the Civil Society Group's demand for justice for the 11-year-old girl. 

The importance of persuading traditional people to concentrate on the Sande society's positive traditions and stop its destructive ones was underscored by Ambassador Delahousse.

Ma Kebbeh Mulbah, a member of the rural and traditional group, called on traditional people to adhere to the call from civil society and stop all harmful practices affecting underage girls.

She said candidates should be 18 or above and give consent before initiation, with emphasis on good practices such as teaching young girls to be good housewives and how to cater to the family.

On February 4, 2022, during observance of International Day of Zero Tolerance on FGM held in Gbarnga, Bong County, representatives of traditional chiefs and elders from all 11 counties practicing FGM, as well as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the National Working Group Against FGM, the Civil Society Council of Liberia and other actors developed and signed a three-year ban, suspending the practice of FGM in Liberia.

The ban/suspension strictly prohibits the practice of FGM in the country, and violators caught are to be apprehended and penalized, but this is not happening, as noted by Civil Society Organizations.

In ensuring compliance, some CSOS, including He For She Crusaders Liberia, West Point Women for Health and Development Organization and the Community Healthcare Initiative, on September 22, 2022, made a visit to Margibi county and met with Chief Zoe Ma Musa and others to get their consensus on halting the practice.

Despite reports of prevalence of FGM across the country, the leadership of National Council of Chiefs and Elders refuted the practice still exists, contrary to news of the latest incident that now risks leading to fistula.

Mr. Johnson noted that the EUROPEAN Union and the United Nations have spent over US$22 million in Liberia under the Spotlight Initiative, aimed at addressing harmful traditional practices, so they will not allow women and girls to keep being mutilated and violated by practitioners.