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Unveiling the hidden story behind FGM Ban in Liberia

-Sup. Kamba appeals to Media for thorough investigation

By Kruah Thompson

Lofa County Superintendent William Tamba Kamba has cautioned local media platforms in Liberia to investigate the recent ban on FGM.

The County Superintendent believes that it is not his responsibility to investigate and identify those who are violating the law at their local bushes in the county but calls on the media to help the government investigate and identify violators.

“The FGM is a law that was signed by representatives from the 15 counties, so what’s the question? I think the Press need to take the responsibility to help the administration and government to investigate and identify those who are violating the law because every county was represented.” he said adding “So, as far as I’m concerned, FGM is not being practiced at our respective counties.”

He made the statement responding to a question from our assigned reporter Thursday, April 7, 2023, at MICAT’s regular briefing on Capital bypass.

In Liberia, the practice of FGM date back many centuries. Strong taboos surrounding the practice and associated Sande secret societies make tackling the practice challenging.

On her last day in office in 2018, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an executive order on the Domestic Violence Bill to ban FGM on girls under 18 years old. However, the ban expired on February 2019.

The temporary ban on FGM was not as effective as initially anticipated during its one-year existence as a law. This was mainly due to a lack of knowledge of the existence of the ban and a lack of coordinated multi-sectoral implementation by state agencies.  

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With the Executive Order already in existence, the number of Sande bushes in Liberia increased drastically with the practice extending to 11 counties from the previous 10.

Other than the temporary ban on FGM, there has never been any solid attempt at making FGM illegal in Liberia. The few cases that have gone through the justice system have been covered under Section 242 of the Penal Code which speaks to malicious and unlawful injuries towards another person by cutting off or otherwise depriving him or her of any of the members of his body, finding a person guilty of a felony. This is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Additionally, the punishments included rehabilitation and fines which are determined on a case-by-case basis — none of which deterred practicing communities.

Traditional leaders have significant power and influence over the Liberian community and often over policymakers. Once girls reach age 18, they will face immense pressure to undergo FGM to remain in the community.

In July 2011, the members of the politically influential Sande secret society who had kidnapped and forcibly subjected Ruth to FGM were sentenced to three years imprisonment; however, they appealed the judgment and were released on bail.

In March 2017, 16-year-old Zaye Doe died in the Tappita area in the Sande bush during forced mutilation. The traditional leaders (Zoes) subjected Zaye and 25 more girls to FGM despite the government ban on Sande Secret Society operations, including FGM at the time.

Also On 28 September 2021, Parker’s 15-year-old daughter was abducted by traditional leaders in Liberia, known as the zoes, and taken from Mount Barclay, a town near the capital Monrovia, to the Sande Bush. There, she was forcibly initiated into the zoes’ secret society. For these women, initiation includes female genital mutilation (FGM).

The National traditional council and the Government of Liberia, along with the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for the abolishment of FGM in Africa, during her visit to Liberia in 2022, conducted a ritual event to end FGM practice in all parts of Liberia.

Dukureh, a survivor of FGM and child marriage, visited the country from November 19-27 to support the government’s efforts to put an end to the inhumane practices against women and girls. And through her effort, FGM was finally abolished on Monday, February 6, 2023.

The final abolishment of FGM practices in Liberia was in fulfillment of Dukurehs commitment made at the end of a consultative meeting among traditional leaders held in Ganta, Nimba County in 2019.

Meanwhile, when Lofa County Superintendent William Tamba Kamba was quizzed on whether the traditional people of the county are coping with the recent ban, the superintendent instead cautioned local media platforms in Liberia to thoroughly investigate to see for themselves if the ban on FGM is working at the county level, adding that as far as he’s concern FGM is not being practiced at their respective counties.

In Liberia, superintendents are considered the chief administrative officer of a county, and their primary responsibility is to oversee and coordinate the day-to-day administration and management of the county. The superintendent is appointed by the president and serves as the president’s representative in the county.

However, it comes as a suppressed that the superintendent who also works closely with other county officials, including the county legislative caucus, county development superintendents, and county council to ensure effective governance and service delivery to county residents, says it is not his responsibility to know whether the traditional leaders in the counties are coping with the ban or not.

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