New Vision (Kampala)

7 January 2013

Uganda: Into the Land of the Sabiny to Witness Female Circumcision

It is now considered dangerous for an outsider to witness. But determination led me to the land of the Sabiny to see how far the fight against this illegal practice has gone.

It was not long before when we encountered furious men with sticks and spears on guard against any intruders. "Who are you and what is that camera for?" they demanded.

In fear, I tried to run, but my guide stopped me. "If you run, they will follow you and you will be killed," he said. "He is a student just studying about our culture. He is not sent by the Police to arrest you," my guide tells them.

He then asks for sh10,000 from me to bribe them. I duly gave it to him and we were allowed to go to the site where the girls were being circumcised.

"Leave your camera behind or else go away," they ordered. We tried to plead that they let us go with the camera, but they were adamant. We finally gave in and surrendered the camera and phone. We were ordered to join in the dance around the small hut were the ritual was to take place.

Deep in my heart, I was not at peace. I was praying to God for his protection in case things turned against me.

Time for the cutting At 6:00pm, it is time to cut the girls. Some girls started crying in fear, while others looked confused. They were ordered to have a sip of a local brew. They seem to be in a trance after sipping it.

The female surgeon looked like she relished the moment she would cut the girls. Her assistant was by her side with yeast. The girls assembled on a blanket on the ground.

With no hot water to sterilise the knives, the surgeon started to cut off a girl's clitoris. The assistant sprinkled yeast on the thighs and in the private parts which is said to reduce friction and wetness.

The girls have to pretend to be strong and not show any fear, as weakness is culturally unacceptable and would have attracted scorn and ridicule from the crowd watching.

As blood gushed from the girls' private parts, the crowd urged: "Be strong! You are almost done! Remain calm!" The cutting lasted about a minute for each girl. The mutilated girls lay helpless.

Then they were ordered to kneel so that the blood could pour out. Once cut, a girl would be pushed aside, giving way to another. They lay facing up, with their legs pressed together as if to stifle the pain.

Most of the girls were in their 20s, although there were a few older ones. I am told the older ones had dodged the practice, but were tricked by their husbands who gave them a herb called "etyanyi" which hypnotises them.

On asking them how they felt, the girls said they were fine and excited to have become women. But their faces could not hide the pain as they were wrapped in dirty blankets and ushered into a hut. They are not allowed to leave this hut until the wound stops bleeding.

FGM illegal

According to the law, a person found practising FGM faces over five years in prison. Linda Cherop, the director of REACH, an NGO fighting FGM and other harmful traditional practices in Bukwo says the practice has greatly reduced due to massive sensitisation.

She says they are aware that it is done in hiding and they cannot establish exactly how many girls have been mutilated. "It is done deep in the forests, but with the strict measures the Government has put in place, I hope the practice will one day stop," Cherop says.

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