By Nellie Peyton
DAKAR, Dec. 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — A 10-year-old girl has died after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) during an initiation into a secret women's society in Sierra Leone, police said on Wednesday, sparking renewed calls for the practice to be banned.
Authorities have arrested the woman in charge of initiations as investigations continue, said Amadu Turay, unit commander of the Mile 91 police division, in Sierra Leone's northern Tonkolili district about 240 km (145 miles) east of Freetown.
"She died of blood loss," Turay told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that it was assumed FGM was the cause.
A local activist said 67 other girls were reported to have been initiated and were awaiting medical examination.
Female genital cutting is widely practised in the West African nation as part of girls' initiation into secret societies which wield significant political clout.
Nine in 10 women have been cut in Sierra Leone which has one of the highest rates of FGM in Africa, according to United Nations data. It is one of only a handful of African countries which has not outlawed the internationally condemned practice.
The ritual typically involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and can cause serious health problems. The last reported death in Sierra Leone was two years ago, and the victim was 19.
Activists have helped develop a national strategy for FGM reduction but are waiting for the government to adopt it, said campaigner Rugiatu Turay, formerly the deputy minister of social welfare, gender and children's affairs.
Just last week discussions on the strategy were held with religious leaders, doctors and chiefs in the district where the girl died, she said. One of the things they were told was to warn parents of the risk of death.
"Now that we have this situation, we want to just set the law," said Turay, founder of Amazonian Initiative Movement, a grassroots anti-FGM group in Sierra Leone.
"FGM is killing our women and girls. We need to get enough publicity on this incident to draw the attention of government."A government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
President Julius Maada Bio this month launched a campaign led by the First Lady called "Hands Off Our Girls", focused on ending rape and child marriage, according to a statement.
Though it aims to eliminate "all forms of abuses against woman and girls", the campaign does not mention FGM.
(Reporting by Nellie Peyton. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)