Burkina Faso has a unique track record in the application of the law criminalizing FGM. Compared to other countries Burkina Faso seems to be a good example in terms of implementation of anti-FGM law.
History of the anti-FGM movement in Burkina Faso
Since the 1960s, there have been awareness raising campaigns against FGM in the country, « but back then they faced fierce resistance by the traditional and customary chieftainship ». In 1975, during a national radio broadcast, FGM was condemned for the first time. In the 1980s, government support for the campaign to eliminate FGM took off and seminars were organized about the practice. The National Committee to Fight the Practice of FGM was established in 1990, before the law was adopted. Later converted to a National Council and plays a very important role, as it liaises with 13 ministries, women’s rights and other NGOs, religious and community leaders, law enforcement officials and the judiciary. In 1992, a first NAP was developed, the law was adopted in 1996, a second NAP was adopted in 1999 and third NAP in 2009. Since the law has been in place, many convictions have resulted in the imprisonment or fining of cutters and accomplices.
Some statistics: between 1997 and 2005, 95 cutters and parents were sentenced for practicing FGM. Between 2005 and 2009, 40 cutters and 648 parents have been prosecuted. Between 2009 and 2015, 384 persons (including 31 cutters) have been sentenced. Remarkably, as these numbers show, not the cutters but mainly the accomplices are being prosecuted. The most common sentence for FGM was just over three months in prison. This information is retrieved from the UNFPA report that can be accessed here.
In the beginning, after the law was implemented, there were a lot of conditional prison sentences. The main reason was, according to Annemarie Middleburg, that judges didn’t want to put (both) parents in prison because itw as not considered in the best interest of the child. Moreover, in most prisons there were no women sections, resulting in unsafe and unhygienic conditions for women. However, itw as shown that people did not understand the concept of a conditional sentence, when persons didn’t go to jail they had the impression that they didn’t do anything wrong. « Up to today this is a big dilemma for people working in the justice system, and opinions on whether or not conditional sentences are a good alternative differ. However, when I was analyzing the statistics in relation to prison sentences over time, I could clearly see that judges now more often choose for a few weeks/1-month prison sentence instead of conditional sentences. »
The country’s 1996 anti-FGM law was revised in 2018 to make it tougher and punish more : Advocating excision on social networks is illegal. In case of death, the penalty is now 21 years in prison versus 11 years in the 1996 law, if a health worker performs FGM/ C, it is the maximum sentence. There is a slight decrease : from 13.3% in 2010 to 11.3% in 2015 among 0-14 years according to the Multisectoral Continuous Survey. Joséphine added : « Given that these statistics come from the surveys based on declarations, it is unclear whether the decline is actually and only due to the application of the law or if there are false statements (of non-excision ), the effect of « social desirability », since people know that the practice is prohibited. More research is needed to document this slight decline, confirm that it is effective, and find out why. »
Key learning points from Burkina Faso:
- Use of sensitization campaigns (TV, radio, general public, talks educational, fora theater, etc.)
- Use of innovatice approaches are
at heart of the preventive work, with promising results :
- Free anonymous telephone lines increase FGM cases being reported
- Community patrol teams
- Mobile community
The purpose of mobile hearings is twofold, according to Joséphine Wauango :
1) to sensitize – explain the reasons for the ban and the misdeeds of the practice and 2) to sanction and show that it is not a joke, to warn all those who would try to excise their daughters.
« Since 2015, during our outings, we have, at first sight, assessed the level of knowledge of the participants. In fact, we have almost never met a village that does not know the law. More than 90% of the population is aware of the existence of the law against FGM. Nevertheless, villagers are more ignorant of the real reasons for the ban on FGM or simply do not believe them. »one member about ther experience from community activities (debate talks, fora theaters..)
Another member added that since 2018, there have been cases of a group of girls who have been circumcised several times in different parts of Burkina Faso, so the practice persists.
« What is certain, the SP / CNLPE (National committee) is aware that law alone cannot be the only solution. That is why this department has done (and still does) a very great job of raising awareness, it communicates a lot in the different national languages to reach rural areas; but at the same time the SP / CNLPE enforces the law, and justice sanctions when cases are proven.«
There is a strong need for thorough studies in Burkina Faso – with immersion in the communities – to understand what works and how it works !
Moreover, « all these innovative actions in Burkina Faso (mobile hearings, dissuasive patrols, etc.) have a cost and need permanent financial resources to sustain them, which remains a challenge for the department in charge of the fight against excision in the country. »
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