Criminal Sentence for Perpetrators of FGM Raises Awareness in Senegal
Tuesday, June 2, 2009 11:22 AM

Two women will serve six months in jail for circumcising a female infant in Matam, Senegal. The conviction is the first to be handed down on charges of female circumcision in Matam since Senegal banned the practice in 1999. The court’s decision caused conflict between traditional religious leaders who support female genital mutilation, and local police, according to AFP News. 


Female circumcision, also referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM), involves cutting the external genitalia, including the clitoris and labia minora. The procedure may be carried out on females of any age, but it is most often performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 12 years old. Often circumcisions are performed without the use of anesthesia. 


The consequences of FGM are serious. The procedure causes long term health problems such as infection and heightened risk of hemorrhaging during child birth. In some traditions, FGM is a cultural rite of passage standing for purity. While FGM is not required by any religion, religious justifications are employed by many who support the practice. 


FGM was once a common practice in Senegal and other African nations. UNICEF reported in 2005 that millions of African girls were victims of the procedure each year. Humanitarian organizations such as Tostan launched a massive educational campaign in Senegal and other nations where the practice was prevalent in an effort to combat traditional perspectives on female circumcision. According to one woman who performed the procedure on girls in surrounding villages, “It was when the Tostan program came to our village that I understood the dangers of the practice and began to question the need to continue. Our [Tostan program] class called together the whole village and other communities…Together we made the decision to end the practice."  Over 3, 500 villages in Senegal have since pledged to end female circumcision.  


Compiled from: "Six Months' Jail for Female Circumcisors in Senegal," AFP, Frances A. Althaus, “Female Circumcision: Rite of Passage Or Violation of Rights?,” International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 23, No. 3 (September 1997); Sarah Crowe and Molly Melching, “Ending female genital mutilation and cutting in Senegal,” UNICEF (6 Decemeber 2005).