SCHOOL CLOSURES BLAMED

One in 10 girls subjected to FGM during Covid period — study

Report recommends using local champions, influential community leaders to campaign

In Summary

• The study has attributed the rise in cases to the prolonged closure of schools

• Child, early and forced marriages rose from 22 per cent to 64 per cent during the Covid period.

Sadia Hussein, an anti-FGM campaigner, recently launched the book 'The Hidden Scars of FGM'.
END FGM: Sadia Hussein, an anti-FGM campaigner, recently launched the book 'The Hidden Scars of FGM'.
Image: COURTESY

One in 10 girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation during the Covid-19 pandemic, a study by Amref Health Africa shows.

The study found that the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in cases of female genital mutilation and cutting from 15 to 54 per cent.

The report also shows that child, early and forced marriages rose from 22 per cent to 64 per cent during the Covid period. It is titled 'Evidence on the Effects of Covid-19 Pandemic on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and Child, Early and Forced Marriages: The Case of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal.'

The study was conducted among 312 respondents in Marsabit, Kajiado and Samburu counties and in parts of Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal.

The study attributes the rise in cases of FGM to the prolonged closure of schools and loss of employment and income.

The aim was to find out the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on FGM and CEFM in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal.

Lessons learnt and recommendations made could be used to address FGM and CEFM during the current pandemic.

“While there is limited quantitative data on the effect of the pandemic on harmful traditional practices such as FGM/C and CEFM, there is anecdotal evidence to support our claims that Covid-19 has increased the likelihood of girls and young women undergoing these practices,” program manager Amref in Uganda Dr Tonny Kapsandui said.

“Across the four countries, the pandemic has negatively affected the implementation of interventions by the justice and legal system, health system, and civil societies, which could explain why there has been an increase in the practice during the period under review,” Kapsandui said.

In Kenya, one in four respondents reported marrying off their daughters because the girls’ age mates got married and they (parents and guardians) did not want their children to be left behind.

In Senegal, one in two cited prevention of pregnancy out of wedlock and the resultant shame it would bring upon the families as the main reason for early marriage.

The study recommends enhancing outreach efforts targeting FGM/C and CEFM by engaging local champions, influential community leaders and community health volunteers.

It also calls for the strengthening of relevant government ministries and agencies to enforce the prevention of FGM/C and CEFM.

“Other proposed measures include development of economic empowerment initiatives and social safety net programmes targeting vulnerable households in FGM/C and CEFM prevalent areas and utilising informal, online and mobile platforms to reach and safeguard at-risk women and girls,” Kapsandui said.

Other recommendations include exploring flexible funding mechanisms to sustain FGM/C and CEFM programmes during the pandemic and integrating FGM/C and CEFM programming into longer-term pandemic preparedness plans.

In 2011, Kenya passed a law that prohibits FGM and imposes tough penalties on perpetrators and those abetting the practice.

The law not only bans the practice in Kenya but also prohibits cross-border FGM and bars medical caregivers from carrying out the practice.

In addition, the law holds that consent cannot be cited as an excuse for conducting FGM.

Since this legislation was passed, the country has witnessed a decline in the number of girls who are cut, with law enforcers and other duty bearers working to end the practice.

Kenya’s FGM prevalence currently is 21 per cent, having declined from 27 per cent in 2008.

However, much more remains to be done.

Kenya is witnessing a growing trend in cross-border FGM where girls and women are taken to Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia for the cut. Perpetrators attempt to circumvent the laws and systems that have been put in place to end FGM.

This is a worrying trend as enforcement of the law on Kenya’s borders remains a challenge.