Tanzania: Traditional Leaders Accused of Betraying Anti-FGM Campaign in Tarime

Photo: Daily News
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practiced on women and girls in some tribes in Africa (file photo).

DESPITE showing positive results in the recent years, ongoing campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Tarime District is at a crossroads.

With traditional leaders being accused of betraying the initiative. Fear abound that many girls are at risk of undergoing FGM in the district this December, which is traditionally recognized as the FGM season.

Preparations for next FGM season are reportedly underway not only in Tarime but also in other parts of Mara Region where the practice is still seen as an important custom.

The Tarime based Association for Termination of Female Genital Mutilation- Masanga Centre (ATFGM) is worried that the number of girls who may escape FGM and seek shelter at the centre is likely to be high in December.

The centre saved 2,469 girls from undergoing the FGM between 2008 and 2017.

"The number is always high in years that are divisible by two (even numbers ) and since 2018 is divisible by 2 then we are expecting to shelter a large number of girls", said Emmanuel Omenda , the Child Rights Co-ordinator at AFGM Masanga.

Omenda was speaking recently during a crucial meeting that brought together, government officials from districts, regional and national levels to deliberate on measures that they take can this time around to save girls who are at risk of undergoing FGM in the region. Explaining about the trend, the centre received and rescued 6 36 girls in 2014, 16 3 in 2015, 300 in 2016 and 103 in 2017 .

Traditional leaders from all 12 clans of Kurya tribe, faith leaders from various denominations and representatives from local and international organizations, striving to fight FGM also attended the meeting held at a hotel in Tarime town.

Mr Simon Chacha, the District Commissioner (DC), for Rorya who is also much familiar with the practice of FGM issues for many years blamed the traditional leaders for frustrating anti-FGM campaigns in Tarime District.

"It is very unfortunate that these traditional leaders are not honest, always taking us backward.

This is the truth of the matter", Mr Chacha said when he was officially opening the meeting.

Traditional leaders of Kurya tribe in Tarime District are the one who decide whether there should be FGM season or not.

In the past year, the Kurya traditional leaders never spoke or tolerated anybody who was spoke against the culture until in recent years when they started taking part in anti-FGM sessions and seminars.

This was seen as remarkable progress by the government and other organizations fighting FGM in the region.

However, FGM still persists though the traditional leaders have been issuing anti-FGM statements showing that they support the campaigns.

"These elders are very important leaders but the problem is that when they return to their home areas (villages) they do not preach what they say here.

We need to be open", Mr Chacha noted. Pastor Francis Makuru of the Tarime based Nkende Mennonite Church of Tanzania said there was no doubt that traditional leaders were the ones planning and coordinating FGM practices in Tarime and other parts of the region.

"Traditional leaders are betraying our campaigns to end FGM. First, they do not do what they say and second FGM cannot happen without their involvement or permission,", Pastor Makuri said.

But the chairman of all 12 clans of Kurya tribe residing in Tarime District Mr Nchagwa Mtongori told the meeting that they have been supporting the campaigns. "We have been going all around to tell our people to stop FGM and our declaration is that FGM is over and that is what we agreed", Mtongori said when he was given an opportunity to speak before the participants who attended the meeting.

However according to Nyasibora Mwita, the Assistant Secretary of clans of Kurya tribe, not all clans have agreed to stop FGM in their areas. "We have not betrayed the campaign but the challenge is that about three clans are a yet to decide on stopping FGM", Mwita told the 'Daily News' at the sideline of the meeting.

The multi-sectoral programme for the pre-next FGM season strategic meeting was attended by several officials responsible to protect rights of children in the region.

They included district and regional social welfare and community development officers, police officers who work with gender and children desks and education officials among others.

The one-day meeting was organized and coordinated by Children's Dignity Forum, a Tanzanian non-governmental organization with funding from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

"In this meeting we have included government leaders from district, regional and national levels, so they can tell us how they will prevent FGM", said CDF Executive Director Koshuma Mtengeti. The police force in the region promised to take proactive measures that will help prevent the FGM acts in December.

"We are going to conduct operations as part of proactive measures. We want to prevent FGM before it happens", Mr Hassan Maya, the Regional Crime Officer (RCO) for Tarime Rorya Regional Police Z one said.

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