Covid & FGM

Press overview


In this section we have gathered some of the newspaper articles and reports shared within the CoP FGM during the months of April-June 2020.

For a more extensive overview see the UNICEF Annotated Bibliography on “Harmful Practices and Public Health Crises”. Accessible here.


Nita Bhalla, “Kenyan chiefs go door-to-door to stop female genital cutting amid coronavirus”, Thomson Reuters Foundation, April 21th, 2020

After cases of families taking advantage of the closure of schools to excise their daughters were reported, village chiefs decided to directly “carry out door-to-door controls”. With risks of FGM having been detected in the Samburu region, anti-FGM activists have called for continued vigilance even in this time of pandemic. As a result, “the authorities have deployed village chiefs and community workers to visit rural households and report cases of girls at risk. “Local radio stations are also being used by anti-FGM activists to reach villages in the Samburu, Isiolo and Marsabit regions.

In this period of isolation and social distancing, economic difficulties are increasing. To alleviate the economic burden on the family, an increase in child marriages and thus in the practice of FGM (a prerequisite for marriage) is to be expected.

“We are hearing many more cases of gender-based violence, from FGM to child marriage to a multitude of domestic violence cases, because women and girls are trapped inside,” said Felister Gitonga, Programme Officer at Equality Now.

In addition, while the Anti-FGM Bureau remains vigilant and mobilized, the assistance of police and authorities is needed to register cases and reach more people more directly in these times of confinement. Police forces are, however, already busy enforcing the exceptional rules designed to contain the Covid-19 outbreak and can hardly provide support to anti-FGM activists.

Press review, UNICEF Newsletter: “COVID-19 and Harmful Practices Bi-Weekly Digest (2 June 2020)

The latest news on the impact of Covid-19 on the rights of women and children is not very optimistic. Containment measures, economic hardship, school closures have placed women, children and especially girls at greater risk of violence, early forced marriage, child labour and threaten their schooling.

A press review based on articles and reports listed in the UNICEF Newsletter allows to better qualify and detail the current situation and challenges. 

UN Women analyses the “impact of Covid-19 on violence against women and girls and the provision of services”. It mentions the lack of data, which is difficult to collect and often provides underestimates given the difficulties women face in reporting, not asking for help or being too isolated to do so. Nevertheless, a general increase in calls to hotlines and helplines was noted worldwide, as well as in the reporting of cases of violence in help centres in many countries. Many sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls who are victims of violence work, at least partially, at a distance, which means that women have limited access to them and sometimes also have difficulty in obtaining the necessary information. They then find themselves at greater risk of being left without protection or appropriate care. The services themselves suffer from a lack of resources – both financial and human – as they are redirected to manage the pandemic and as a result, their functioning and continuity are hampered.

To know more, three other reports on this topic:

  • UN Women, IDLO, UNDP, UNODC, World Bank and The Pathfinders. “Justice for Women Amidst COVID-19.” New York, 2020. Access here (summary here)
  • CARE International, Rapid Gender Analysis – COVID-19 : West Africa – April 2020, May 20, 2020. Access here
  • Julia Hussein (2020): COVID-19: What implications for sexual and reproductive health and rights globally?, Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters. Access here

On May 18th, 2020, Plan International raised concerns on the increase of FGM and child marriage in Somalia. According to Sadia Allin, head of mission at Plan International Somalia, “The lockdown is being seen as an opportune time for the procedure to be carried out in the home with ample time for healing”. Furthermore, with the worsening of economic hardships, cutters are looking more actively for families wanting to have daughters cut “and they are going door-to-door to cut girls.” (Sadia Allin)

The information has been reshared by various newspapers worldwide:

  • The original statement by Plan International here
  • Emma Batha, Somalia sees “massive” rise in FGM during lockdown, Brinkwire, May 30, 2020. Access here
  • Farzana Hassan, HASSAN: COVID-19 brings FGM increase to Africa, The Toronto Sun, May 21, 2020. Access here
  • Lerato Mogoatlhe, COVID-19 Lockdowns in Somalia Are Putting More Girls in Danger of Child Marriage and FGM, in Global Citizen, May 27, 2020. Access here
  • Danielle Wallace, Somalia sees ‘massive’ uptick in female genital mutilation during coronavirus lockdown, Fox News, May 20, 2020. Access here
  • Rupa Shenoy, “Despite recent historic gains in ending FGM, Somalia sees dramatic increase”, The World, June 03, 2020. Access here

In The Guardian, Harriet Grant outlines the situation in Tanzania and the Sahel, where school closures mean girls are less protected from FGM and marriage. First, it threatens the efforts and progress made in recent years to improve girls’ schooling. Indeed, many girls face difficulties in continuing their schooling at a distance and risk never returning to school. In Tanzania, schools are protective and safe spaces for girls. According to Terre des Hommes, with their closure, many girls protected during the excision season were eventually excised during confinement. Families do not fear condemnation: “We met a mother who was imprisoned one year after performing FGM but she was satisfied. She is locked up but her daughter is excised. “In addition, in the Sahel region, where early marriage is prevalent, secondary school delays the practice but is no longer able to protect girls at risk. Finally, Eric Hazard of Save the Children Africa warned of the current risk of unwanted pregnancies, violence and sexual abuse of young girls as observed during the Ebola epidemic.

According to UNFPA, the number of girls cut this year is expected to be 2 million more than expected because of the pandemic and lockdown measures. Child marriage will also increase to 13 million more than initially thought by 2030. 

To know more about the impact of school closures on early marriage and pregnancies, FGM and girls’ schooling:

  • UNFPA, “Millions more cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, unintended pregnancy expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic”, April 28, 2020. Access here
  • Harriet Grant, Many girls have been cut’: how global school closures left children at risk, The Guardian, June 01, 2020. Access here
  • Sabdio Darso, What is the effect of COVID-19 on girls’ education?, for Mercy Corps, May 20, 2020. Access here
  • Farzana Hassan, HASSAN: COVID-19 brings FGM increase to Africa, The Toronto Sun, May 21, 2020. Access here
  • Time Hum, Desperate Families in Yemen Are Resorting to Child Marriage and Labor as Coronavirus Spreads, Vice, May 26, 2020. Access here
  • Lerato Mogoatlhe, ‘4 Critical Humanitarian Issues That African Countries Should Not Forget as They Fight COVID-19’, in Global Citizen, May 20, 2020. Access here
  • Leah Rodriguez, COVID-19 Puts Girls at Risk of Unplanned Pregnancies, Violence, and Missing Out on School: Report, in Global Citizen, May 19, 2020. Access here
  • Emma Smith, Many girls won’t go back to school when lockdown is over, Devex, May 27, 2020. Access here
  • Hanna Summers, UK behind Yemen and Sudan in global index of children’s rights, report finds, The Guardian, May 26, 2020. Access here
  • Sadhika Tiwari, Ongoing Crisis May Push Adolescent Girls Into Early Marriage Or Work, IndiaSpend, June 1, 2020. Access here

Finally, solutions and recommendations were put forward by civil society organizations and members, NGOs and international institutions. In particular, Girls not Brides wrote an open letter to the African Union with recommendations to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on girls’ education and their vulnerabilities. For example, the 5th calls for universal access to appropriate sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services to reduce the risk of gender-based violence. The 6th calls for “training educators to recognize and prevent violence” and the 8th calls for encouraging girls to return to school by removing barriers to their access.

Useful resources and tools on the topic:

  • Girls not Brides, “Joint letter to the African Union: the impact of Covid-19 on girls’ education and child marriage”, April 30, 2020 (letter sent on April 20, 2020 & co-signed by five organisations). Access here
  • UN Women, IDLO, UNDP, UNODC, World Bank and The Pathfinders. “Justice for Women Amidst COVID-19.” New York, 2020. Access here (summary here)
  • UN Women East and Southern Africa, “COVID-19: ending violence against women and girls – key priorities and interventions for effective response and recovery (Policy Brief)”, May 20, 2020. Access here
  • UN Women, Ending Violence Against Women Briefs. Access here

In conclusion, the new challenges brought about or existing ones accentuated by VIDOC-19 place women and girls at greater risk of experiencing violations of their rights, violence and reduced opportunities. Social distancing and movement reduction measures call on NGOs, CSOs, health and social services, states and international institutions to improve their coordination and learn from each other’s work. Innovative solutions are implemented, new ways of communication are developed and contacts between actors around the globe are strengthened. It is essential to continue in this direction in order to respond as well as possible and as quickly as possible to the needs of girls and women and to continue to protect them.

Egypt: Vaccine against coronavirus used as an excuse to cut three girls

In Egypt, a father of three underage girls presented them with a coronavirus vaccine, which was in fact a general anaesthetic designed to put them to sleep while they were being excised. Alerted by her daughters to the event, the mother then reported it to the authorities. The father and the doctor who had practiced FGM were charged with the need to carry out “an urgent criminal procedure”. Investigators reported that the girls “lost consciousness and when they woke up, they were shocked to see their legs tied together and to feel pain in their genitals. “In Egypt, 87 per cent of women and girls aged 15-49 have undergone FGM, but no cases have been successfully prosecuted since the legal ban on the practice in 2016. Nevertheless, women’s rights activists see the swift reactions of girls, their mothers and the authorities as a sign that society is more aware of the dangers of the procedure and a willingness to change. 

Articles on the topic:

  • Zoe Tidman, “Egyptian father ‘used coronavirus lie’ to trick daughters into FGM”, The Independent, 06 June 2020 (Access here)
  • “Egyptian girls ‘tricked into FGM’ with COVID-19 vaccine”, Al Jazeera, 5 June 2020 (Access here)

Alice Cachia, “Egyptian doctor ‘performs FGM on three unconscious sisters after their father tricked them by saying the medic was just there to inject a Covid-19 vaccine’”, Daily Mail, 4 June 2020 (Access here)

Amanda Cameron, “Fears raised over child abuse and NHS delays in coronavirus lockdown”, Bristol Post, 04 June 2020 (Access here)

Bristol councillors have raised concerns about delays in seeking medical care, disproportionate exposure of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) to COVID-19 and the increased vulnerability of children. With lockdown measures and prolonged stays at home, they are more at risk of sexual abuse and violence. A potential risk of FGM has also been highlighted.

Rupa Shenoy, “Despite recent historic gains in ending FGM, Somalia sees dramatic increase”, The World, June 03, 2020 (Access here)

In Somalia, the reporting of FGM cases has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic, and excisers are even going door-to-door to offer parents the opportunity to have their daughters excised. In Sudan, the recent adoption of a law criminalizing FGM has raised questions about whether and how it will be enforced effectively and efficiently. Activists fear that the law will be used to criminalize only women who perform FGM without acknowledging the involvement of men. They argue that the main issue at stake is the unequal status of women. “Women’s citizenship rights are in a highly miserable situation,” according to Hala al-Karib, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa.

Geoffroy Ondieki, “Kenya: ‘I Am in Pain’, Cries Samburu FGM Victim”, Daily Nation, June 02, 2020 (Access here)

The girls reveal that they have been excised without any possibility of escape in view of their confinement, isolation and mobility restrictions, after their parents had concluded a marriage agreement concerning them. Others face financial barriers when they try to seek medical help to treat complications of their FGM. “New tricks, the lack of awareness forums and the closure of rescue centres due to the threat of coronavirus have exposed more girls to FGM. “Parents are taking advantage of the situation to marry off girls to better cope with economic hardship. With the cessation of field activities and especially awareness forums, preventing new cases of FGM becomes more difficult and it is expected that they will increase.

Kenya: Lack of protective measures and safe spaces for girls at risk of FGM and increase in FGM cases

There are reports of “mass excisions” involving hundreds of girls in Kenya. Since the closure of schools on 16 March, as many as 500 cases of FGM have been reported in the West Pokot region. “Parents face an uncertain future because of the loss of income caused by the coronavirus, so they decide to cut their daughters and marry them,” said Domtila Chesang, founder of the I-Am Responsible Foundation. She says the foundation receives daily calls from girls asking for help. The Anti-FGM Bureau, a semi-autonomous government agency, acknowledges an increase in FGM cases. It claims that arrests have been made, a team has been created to identify girls at risk of FGM, and a team has been mobilized to investigate mass cutting. As the West Pokot region is on the border with Uganda, cross-border FGM is also a problem. The adoption of a common approach linking various stakeholders is being discussed at the Anti-FGM Bureau to prevent mass cutting. Schools are not expected to reopen until September and activists fear that many girls will not return to school after the pandemic with the increase in teenage pregnancies and early marriages.

Nita Bhalla, “Coronavirus threatens Kenya goal to end female genital mutilation by 2022”, Thomson Reuters Foundation, June 09, 2020 (Access here)

Kamau Maichuhie, “West Pokot records dramatic rise in FGM cases”, Daily Nation, June 11, 2020 ( Access here)

“FGM, GBV on the rise in Kenya amid COVID-19 pandemic”, Kenya’s Watching, June 15, 2020 (Access here)

Graham, “Better hell than going back home – Baringo FGM escapees”, The Star, June 10, 2020 (Access here)

82 girls between the ages of 8 and 14 fled their homes where their parents wanted them excised and married. They report that they have faced death threats from their father for refusing to undergo FGM. When the closure of schools was announced, eight girls attending Tangulbei Primary School in Tiaty refused to return home. They preferred to remain confined to the school to be protected from their parents who wanted them cut. Kuket, a teacher and president of the Tangulbei Women’s Network, points out that the government has not set up rescue centres for girls fleeing their homes to escape FGM. After schools closed, all the girls were sent home with their parents’ promise to take care of them and not to cut them, but with no way to ensure that they kept their word. “Local leaders face many threats when they try to stop the perpetrators,” says Kuket. Some politicians have even confessed to being afraid to take a stand for fear of losing votes.

“New female genital mutilation victims identified in Southampton”, Southern Daily Echo, June 15, 2020 (Access here)

“Approximately 10 victims of FGM were received by the health services of the responsible clinical group in Southampton between January and March”. At least one of them was being received by the health services for the first time for this reason. Two areas of concern have been raised by the National Centre for FGM. First, because children and adolescents are staying at home more, they are less in contact with services that can listen to their concerns. Second, with the decrease in medical visits and the issue of FGM remaining dead, girls and women who have undergone FGM are retreating into silence without the means to seek help. During this period of the pandemic, women are less likely to seek services and help and have had to face new economic hardships.

Kate Hodal, “Why coronavirus has placed millions more girls at risk of FGM”, The Guardian, June 16, 2020 (Access here)

The closure of schools has left girls unprotected and more at risk of undergoing FGM. Moreover, VIDOC-19 has brought nothing more than confusion and uncertainty about what will happen next. As the population faces new economic hardships and sees no hope for improvement and no possibility of returning to school, they respond by marrying off girls and thus practising FGM. In Kenya, anti-FGM activist Domtila Chesang notes that the number of prosecutions for FGM has never been higher. In Somalia, UNFPA estimates that 290,000 girls will be cut this year and many of them will be infibulated. In Mogadishu, private hospitals have been closed due to COVID-19 and parents are afraid to go to hospital because of the pandemic. “FGM appears to be following worrying trends, such as serving as a ‘social’ experience for families to meet each other during confinement. “Indeed, girls from neighbouring families are cut together at the same time, with families benefiting from the presence of a traditional exciser. In Egypt too, “under the cover of the coronavirus, many abuses against women are observed, both FGM and domestic violence,” says Reem Abdellatif, an anti-FGM activist and American-Egyptian journalist. Families are trying to find some form of social and financial stability in these difficult times by marrying off their daughters and effectively cutting them. A 32-year-old Egyptian woman now living in the Netherlands reports being pressured by her mother to be excised and marry in order to provide her with some form of security. “So you can now imagine the threats faced by millions of girls living in Egypt’s slums and villages with little or no hope of escape,” she says.

On the same topic

What can we learn from the Ebola pandemic?

Covid & FGM What can we learn from the Ebola pandemic?   When the COVID-19 pandemic started many people remembered the Ebola pandemic and wondered what – if anything – we could learn from the impact that Ebola had on FGM.  The case of Sierra Leone Based on...

read more

Tools and resources developed and shared by the members

Covid & FGM Tools and resources developed and shared by the members   During COVID-19 the members of the CoP have kept busy and have adaptedtheir work, developed tools and published papers and articles related to FGM, womenand girls’ rights or SRHR in times...

read more