More than 30 people suspected of performing and aiding the female genital mutilation (FGM) of dozens of young girls have been arrested in Burkina Faso, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Those arrested include “cutters” and some of the girls’ relatives.
The arrests follow earlier reports of approximately 50 girls being hospitalized in the country after undergoing FGM in Kaya, a city just north of the capital, Ouagadougou. Many of the girls suffered from complications from the procedure, the BBC reported.
The procedure is one that is medically unnecessary and involves cutting and damaging a female’s genitalia to varying degrees and is rooted in the belief that a girl’s value lies in her virginity. FGM is a cultural practice — not a religious one — believed to preserve a female’s “purity” and make her a more appealing marriage prospect and globally more than 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM, according to the World Health Organization.
Though FGM is typically carried out around adolescence, Jean Paul Murunga, a member of Equality Now’s End Harmful Practices team told the Guardian there has been a trend toward subjecting younger girls to FGM in Burkina Faso.
“Previously, girls were cut at older ages like 13, 14, 15, and 16, but [the age] has now decreased because a girl of 13 and above is able speak out,” he said.
Among those recently hospitalized after undergoing FGM were girls as young as 10 months old and those in their early 20s, Ursule Taro, a representative of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight against the Practice of Excision, told Reuters.
Burkina Faso was one of the first countries on the African continent to ban FGM, making the practice illegal in 1996. But despite efforts to educate Burkinabé of the harms of FGM and the legislation against it, the practice and cultural attitudes about it persist.
“This case shows how a government can have a good law, a good legal system against a practice but if it fails to effectively continue and intensify that enforcement of that particular law, then it puts its citizens at risk,” Murunga told Global Citizen.
Approximately 76% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM in the West African country, according to UNICEF. The practice remains most common in the country’s rural areas.
Murunga said more work is needed to up the ante in the fight to protect girls against FGM, including better enforcement of existing laws and more successful prosecutions of perpetrators of FGM.
“For many years, from almost the 1960s up to early 1990s, Burkina Faso's fight against FGM was lauded and was seen as best practice. But as of late, the government has failed to budget for the national committee and this has meant that the national committee for the fight against female genital mutilation has not been as effective as it used to be,” he said, highlighting the relatively low number of arrests and prosecutions.
This week’s mass arrests are the government’s biggest crackdown on FGM to date, Reuters reported.