What can be done to tackle Cross Border FGM

At a national level


Tighten national legislations around cross-border FGM and so that those who participate in any action that results in women and girls being moved between countries to be cut are punished.

Felister Gitonga, project officer at Equality Now, Kenya emphasized that:

“The implementation of the Prohibition of FGM Act (2011) in Kenya has also contributed to an increase in cross-border FGM. The law criminalizes cross-border FGM under Article 21. Collaboration between community-based organisations, community policing agents and law enforcement agencies has intensified the enforcement of the law in Kenya with the authorities being very alert during the cutting season. Therefore community members opt to take children to Tanzania where the authorities are not very vigilant.”

At a regional level

Regional cooperation is essential. The UNFPA-UNICEF JP on FGM stresses the importance of cross-border initiatives in eliminating FGM across regions (UNFPA-UNICEF, 2018; UNFPA-UNICEF, 2019).

“To address the disparities in FGM laws among neighboring countries, interventions have included policy collaboration, legislation and communications. Work has also begun on region-wide laws banning the practice. In East Africa, for example, a draft regional protocol addresses cross-border cooperation, the implementation of national laws and the 2016 United Nations resolution. This draft protocol informed the 2017 East African Legislative Assembly FGM Bill, which aims to equip technical experts with legal powers to track and conduct interventions across borders. The Joint Programme also supported the passage of the 2016 East African Community Gender Equality and Development Bill. The law is expected to enhance regional cooperation on prosecuting perpetrators of FGM.”

Examples of regional initiatives

The East African Community Prohibition of FGM Act

In 2016, the East African Community passed the East African Community Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (EAC Act), making FGM a transnational crime between it’s member countries. Members include Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, all of which have communities that practise FGM but varying degrees of national law enforcement against the practice. (28 Too Many, 2018(a); 28 Too Many, 2018(b))

“A person commits an offence if they take a person from a partner State to another partner State or another country, or arrange for another person to be brought into a partner State from another country with the intention of having that other person subjected to female genital mutilation.” Article 6 of the EAC Act,  (28 Too Many, 2018(a); 28 Too Many, 2018(b))

Similar regional laws would need to be implemented in other regions.

The Declaration and Action Plan to End cross-border FGM by Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia

In April 2019, five countries in East Africa adopted a common Declaration and Action plan to address FGM, including cross-border FGM. This initiative is supported by the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM and the declaration is seen as a “landmark meeting to declare an end to FGM, particularly cross-border dimensions of FGM”.

This meeting is the first of its kind in the history of global efforts to eradicate FGM. The participating governments put forward recommendations that reaffirmed the need for strong partnerships at all levels in order  to end FGM.

The Plan of Action has 4 priority areas:

  1. Improvement of the legislative and policy frameworks as well as the environment to end cross border FGM;
  2. Effective and efficient coordination and collaboration amongst the 5 national governments to end FGM within their borders;
  3. Communication and advocacy on cross border FGM prevention and response;
  4. National governments, academia and statistical offices have a better capacity to generate and use evidence and data for addressing cross border FGM.

(UNFPA Kenya, 2019)

UNFPA-UNICEF Joint-programme on FGM cross-border initiatives against FGM

The Joint Programme on FGM has implemented cross-border initiatives to tackle FGM in several regions (28 Too Many, 2018(b)), including:

  • The Gambia and Senegal – with the aim of raising awareness and developing a plan of action to increase surveillance in border communities between the two countries for identification and reporting of children at risk of undergoing FGM.
  • Portugal, Guinea-Bissau. Working with the governments as well as CSOs, including the Bissau-Guinean diaspora in Portugal, in support of the prevention of vacation cutting. The programme targeted emigration/border posts in both countries, particularly at airports, and border authorities were provided with information on FGM as well as on the legislation in Portugal and Guinea-Bissau.
  • Uganda and Kenya – marathons (including two regional cross-border marathons) involving high level political and religious representatives in the focus areas. More than 1,200 athletes from Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya participated in the event organized in 2017. Four cross-border meetings on FGM were also conducted involving high level political, cultural and community participants from Uganda and Kenya.

How to fight against cross-border FGM, Joséphine Wouango’s contribution

I think we need to think about actions and interventions that first help to identify and control these practices in order to better eradicate them. Among others:

  • Having a common tool, a regional law to harmonize sanctions so that the fight is unanimous and consistent. As long as people have this facility to cross the border and continue the practice, the struggle will be difficult even for a country like Burkina Faso which rigorously applies its law on cutting.
  • Having political will in all border countries, because if you have a regional law and all the countries do not apply it rigorously, it will be a waste of time. There are cases of cross-border FGM where each border country has a law (Burkina Faso-Niger; Burkina Faso-Ghana for example), but people still cross to “go do the thing on the other side”.

“When you look at Ghana it’s the same thing, when you take the South-West region, people take their daughters, they cross over, go to Ghana to do that and then they come back, so you see! When you take the Ivory Coast, they bring the girls to the forest areas, they do that and they come back; because I’ve already been to the Ivory Coast, I’ve seen it. I visit an aunt who lives there, so I know what’s going on over there.” A resource person, Burkina Faso.

  • Reinforce awareness actions at community level so that people understand WHY they must stop the practice, using respected local leaders who have enormous power in the community and who are above all convinced of the merits of the abandonment of the practice. The CNLPE in Burkina Faso has been doing this for a long time, but the work must be continued. It may be that the message of a local leader who is well known and close to the population, particularly if he/she is well respected, is better understood than that of a bureaucrat who arrives from the city and who does not properly understand the ins and outs of local community life. In Burkina Faso and in Mali, our participants are very aware of the harmful consequences linked to excision, with concrete examples to support it.

So why do people still cut their daughters, often covertly?

Our study highlighted that in the 6 villages, people tend to resort to customary law in any type of conflict situation rather than civil law (sought as a last resort). We also found that there are always people who are fierce advocates of the practice (men and women). For them, FGM only has advantages and all campaigns have the sole aim of making their customs disappear and of undermining their integrity. When you have tenacious mindsets of this nature, repression and the law alone are insufficient. There is a need to scale up more appropriate community interventions so even those people who are fierce advocates of FGM, who openly say so in interviews, are nevertheless afraid of losing their daughter as a result of FGM which is said to be frequently improperly performed.

  • Do not neglect the action capacities of youth. We have noticed that young people are starting to question the arguments of loved ones who are in favor of the practice. The reasons: the media, education, mobility (some have lived in countries that do not practice FGM, but where women are married and have children), etc.

The young girls and boys in our focus groups refer to the elders to explain the reasons for the circumcision: “the old people said that …”. Some even think that “when they [the old people] are gone,” the practice may disappear. But since these young people live in communities where respect for the elders is essential, where one does not often contradict “what the old people said”, it is sometimes difficult for them to openly oppose the values and practices of another time that exist in their communities. These young people need support.

  • Other people in our research say that only health workers can tell if the girl has been cut or not, and only during a medical visit. Consequently, these health workers could be on the border with the security agents to control the return of the girls from Mali. However, they themselves recognize that this is a utopian measure given the number of health workers available in the villages and the extent of the border.

Instead, they propose that the government introduce (or impose) regular medical visits for children aged 0 to X years of age, which would allow the child / girl to be seen regularly and mothers could continue to be educated about the harmful effects of FGM. That having been said, many women still hesitate to bring their circumcised daughters to the hospital. For example, we listened to cases about girls suffering haemorrhages following their cutting, but people tell you that they never brought the girl to the hospital, in Mali or in Burkina Faso, because they were afraid. So they attempt DIY medecine at home until the haemorrhage stops. Some even went to borrow medication from priests, but they never said that it was to stop a haemorrhage due to excision !

  • The need for more studies on cross-border FGM. Currently there are few. The cross-border struggle is now on the African agenda and beyond. It is important to better understand its manifestations, the motivations of the various communities and other factors in order to develop effective and, above all, sustainable intervention strategies due to the complexity of the problem.

“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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