Legal situations facilitating cross-border FGM


Avoiding the law

FGM remains an act deeply rooted in the cultural and religious beliefs of practicing communities. While global efforts have been made to curb this practice, evidence suggests that families, cutters and practitioners still find ‘creative ways’ to uphold the practice.

In some countries where FGM has become illegal, the practice has both been pushed underground and across borders to avoid prosecution. The movement of families and traditional practitioners across national borders for the purpose of FGM is a complex challenge for the campaign to end the practice, and women and girls living in border communities can be particularly vulnerable. (28 Too Many, 2018(a); 28 Too Many, 2018(b))

6 African countries currently have no legislation against FGM: Chad, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. The lack of laws against FGM in these countries provide the possibility for communities in neighboring places to travel and practice FGM where it is legal.

“Before we even started talking about the law, people were doing it (FGM) here, we did not need to move. It is because there was the law that people sought to hide, to go elsewhere. You will agree with me that travel is expensive. If there was no law, people would not move.”          
A Burkinabe youth leader, interviewed by the GRIGED. (GRIGED, 2008)

Nevertheless, in settings where the practice is illegal on both sides of the border, communities may prefer to practice it in another country, where they are not known.

For example, Ghanaian families take their daughters to Burkina Faso and Togo despite the laws in the neighbouring countries as “the perpetrators [from Ghana] prefer the “Cross-border cutting” because nobody will identify them and report them to the police”. (Modern Ghana, 2015, )

Weaknesses of laws

Most anti-FGM laws in Africa do not specifically address the issue of cross-border FGM. In fact, only 3 countries (Guinea Bissau, Kenya and Uganda) have provisions that prohibit and punish cross border FGM. Moreover, a cross border initiative is currently implemented in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda) and supported by the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM. (Population Council, 1996; UNFPA-UNICEF, 2018)

Likewise, a few European countries and several US States lack a “principle of extraterritoriality” and make so called “vacation cutting” legally possible.

The implementation of national laws banning FGM came up as a common issue for members because it drives communities still practicing FGM underground. As a matter of fact, they become harder to detect. Members have also demonstrated that incidents of cross-border FGM are more prevalent in communities sharing similar cultures, family members, sometimes a house or farm on both sides of the border. It is, thus, more probable for cross-border FGM to be practiced in countries where anti-FGM laws are weak or inexistent, and where members of a same community go to neighbouring countries where they can flee prosecution. 

Felister Gitonga, project officer on ending Harmful Practices at Equality Now, underlined that:

“Collaboration between community organisations, community police officers and law’s enactment organisms has increased the law’s implementation in Kenya. Authorities are very vigilant during the cutting season. Thus, community members choose to bring their children to Tanzania where authorities are not so vigilant.”

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