It was with sombre dismay I learnt of the death of a 9 year old girl allegedly during a Female Genital Mutilation process on 17 May this year, in a village called Bongama in Eastern Sierra Leone. Without any shock of the location because that part of the country is known to be very intransigent when it comes to stopping the harmful traditional practice like FGM.
The death of the little angel also forced me to ask all those politicians and other senior people in society whom either have been playing lip service to the issue of FGM or trivialising its effects, whether this death rings a bell. Are we being just to humanity? What if this little girl was ourselves, our daughters, nieces, cousins, aunties? A future has been halted, a life ended carelessly. Who knows whether this girl was going to grow up and be somebody who was going to make a very meaningful contribution to our society. Yet our action or inaction have impeded her contribution to changing the future of Sierra Leone, Africa and the world. Does this thought ever reign in our minds? Does it haunt us? Well if it has not I think its high time we started thinking from this angle.
The UN country team in a statement called on the government to conduct a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the girl’s death and to bring those responsible to justice. While it welcomed steps taken by the government to investigate the case, noting that an individual has been taken into police custody.
‘Further, the UNCT recalled Sierra Leone’s commitment during the Universal Periodic Review in May 2011, and in line with its international obligations, that Sierra Leone should urgently: adopt measures to eradicate female genital mutilation, and conduct enhanced and robust awareness raising campaigns, particularly among families and traditional leaders, of its harmful impacts,’ the UNCT statements reads.
The death of this beautiful soul also reminds me of how lucky I and so many other women who grew up in that society are. At 9 years old I was either in my primary school in central Freetown studying, giggling and laughing to childhood jokes or I and my friends were at a slope called Okra hill on tower hill playing. Most days I came home covered in red dust to the anger of my Mom but who would ignore me for I was just a child.
At home I would play several of our local games from ‘touch’, ‘balance ball’, ‘six cup’, ‘nothing’, ‘circle games’ to ‘I am flying’, if you were born in Sierra Leone I can sense the smiles these games brings to your face. On other days I and friends will go to the plum tree by the sea and we will pelt stones at the plums until we returned with a bag full or we will go to our backyard and oppress the Mangoes, Pawpaw and Avocadoes on their trees.
It was also when I was 9 years old that I also learnt that children can also carry the burdens of the world. Indeed at that age the war in Liberia was at its peak while Sierra Leone was starting hers as well. Lots of children were marauding the streets day and nights. During day as street peddlers selling oranges and other items on tray while at night they engaged in the trade of prostitution.
Sadly the roles of children and parents were gradually swapping spaces. The evil of this world was glaring its ugly face on the Mano River Union with the killing of former president Samuel K Doe of Liberia and the fulfilment of war lord Charles Taylor’s promise to let Sierra Leone and her people taste the bitterness of war.
At 9 I began to fashion my ambitions, my dreams, what I wanted to do when I become an adult. Formed by the things I saw around me which I thought were wrong especially for children and women, I began to think that I could one day speak against the evils of my society.
At 9, like most children in my era I had cried when I heard of rebels and I have been coaxed by my parents that the war will end before it reaches Freetown.
At 9, the people I trusted were my parents and other relatives who bought me sweets and gave me money. Just like the 9 year old girl whom has been murdered by the people she trusted, I was as vulnerable as a leaf and from time to time I sought protection from these trustworthy people around me.
Despite all this, I had no knowledge what FGM was. I was told when some of my relatives were going to be initiated into the Bondo society, that they were going to climb a tree and they would fall down from the tree and that was all it was. My classmate and friend who got successfully initiated in neighbouring Guinea at such tender age had also told me that she was not meant to speak about it as she could die if she did. I had accepted the tale of falling down from a tree and had even enquired if the tree was tall or a short one, I had been told it was short so that initiates won’t get hurt.
For the little girl of Bongama whose life has been cut short by people she trusted, she would never be able to sit down like I have just did and write what she remembered at this age. If death means going to another world consciously, perhaps she would be able to write how her life was terminated by her loved ones; the people she trusted like I did at 9. But for this world, hers is over and for good. Thanks to the wicked people who forcefully got her initiated and eventually got her killed; probably from the shock of the event or from bleeding as it is mostly the case.
Children who got initiated bleed and instead of seeking professional medical care, the initiators would use leaves to stop the blood oozing out and when this is unsuccessful, the initiate die miserably.
Albeit, the country’s domestic law clearly stipulates that FGM must not be done on children under the age of 18 years, it is still widely practiced all over the country. Especially so during school holidays. The 9 year old girl has a really sad ordeal, pathetic when one think of it, this whole idea of maintaining the archaic custom of FGM is made solely to inflict pain and punishment on young girls.
Furthermore, this is a real indictment on Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans. For successive governments have used FGM for political gains at the expense of the poor. Will politicians have reacted with this amount of negligence if their children were the ones dying? Would they be treating this issue with levity if they had felt direct negative impacts of this practice? Indeed they would have hurriedly put every measures in place to ensure the practice was halted. But sadly like in most cases, it is the poor girls in remote villages and communities that are feeling the horrific effects of FGM. The death of the 9 year old also raise a lot of questions on civil society organizations. If this death had occurred in any other country, the reaction would have been loud and clear, raising international alert to the realities of it. People would have come out in their numbers calling for an immediate investigation, prosecution and conclusion of the matter. But this has not happened. For instance the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign that went viral online helped raised international concern for the Chibok girls abducted by the Islamic militants group Boko Haram of Nigeria.
For crying out loud, a soul has been lost and she does not need to be the daughter of the President, a Minister or any big figure in society. She died of FGM and reports state that over 70% of Sierra Leonean women had undergone FGM and a lot more young girls lives are at stake.
Apparently we shout against violence against women and girls and it sometimes hard when these violence are being committed by women themselves. What is happening to humanity? What a shame to Sierra Leonean women! Sadly for some selfish reasons, even women are playing the dumb game when it comes to speaking against FGM . But for once we should try to fit ourselves in these girls' situations. Shame it is indeed. We have the saying in Sierra Leone that we put out the fire in our neighbour's house before it reaches ours. So what are we waiting for?
The Bongama 9 year old girl’s ordeal, should be a wakeup call to government and other stakeholders who keep sweeping the realities of the effects of FGM under the carpet.