Tanzania: Enforcement of the Law Against Female Genital Mutilation

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1 Apr 2006

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been prohibited by law in Tanzania since 1998, but the law has not been effectively enforced.  In June 2001, Equality Now issued a Women’s Action urging the government of Tanzania to take more effective action to end the practice of FGM, through education and enforcement of the law.  The Women’s Action highlighted the case of three girls aged 13 and 14 who fled to a local church for protection against FGM.  Instead of assisting Pastor Zakayo of the church, who brought the girls to the police, the police arrested the pastor, severely beating him in an effort to force a confession from him that he had raped the girls.  A hospital examination proved the girls had not been raped, but the police handed them back to their father, who had them subjected to FGM the next day and married within a month, one of them as a third wife.  No disciplinary action was ever brought against the policemen involved, and a private prosecution of the father initiated by Pastor Zakayo was unsuccessful.  Following the trial and publicity around the case, the husband of one of the girls has sent her back to her father for fear of getting prosecuted himself for involvement in her mutilation.

Equality Now has been calling for the issuance of formal instructions to the Tanzanian police nationwide to enforce the law against FGM and protect the girls from its violation.  The Tanzanian government has received boxfuls of letters to this effect from members of Equality Now’s Women’s Action Network.  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working locally in Tanzania have been engaged in awareness-raising campaigns about FGM and have also been training the police on the law against FGM.  The police have apparently received instructions through their commanding stations that the law against FGM should be upheld, although Equality Now has not been able to obtain a copy of this circular.  Local NGOs do, however, believe that the message is getting out to the practicing population.  While there is some information to suggest that FGM is now being carried out on babies rather than adolescents to more easily avoid detection, some members of communities who once supported the practice are now assisting NGOs in monitoring for FGM.  Pastor Zakayo, once vilified by his own community for his work against FGM, says he has now gained some local respect and that even the father mentioned above, who forcibly had his three daughters cut after their unsuccessful attempt to escape, supports his campaign.  The police now also collaborate with Pastor Zakayo, although much education still needs to be done about the law and some police officers are still reluctant to intervene in what many still regard a cultural practice. 

There are very remote regions that remain difficult to access both for the police and NGOs working against FGM.  It also remains difficult to get cooperation from the police when FGM has already occurred.  In these cases, there is often inadequate investigation and poor follow-through in the courts.  Even in cases where perpetrators or parents are arrested for having performed FGM, in many instances they are released or acquitted without explanation. Where there is police intervention, however, this appears to have had a positive effect.  In July 2004, Pastor Zakayo received information that a man had taken his children out of school in order to have them subjected to FGM.  When he told the police, they went to the village to stop the ceremony, making sure to speak to the head teacher, the village leader and the community which was to participate.  A policeman then went with anti-FGM campaigners to convince the parents to abandon the practice.  As a result of this intervention, the three girls were spared from genital mutilation and remain uncut.  Similarly, in November 2004, a family member informed Pastor Zakayo that 6-year old Rose, 5-year old Teresa and 4 year-old Naomi were to undergo FGM.  The pastor reported this information to the police who went to speak to the girls’ father.  The police informed the father that FGM is illegal in Tanzania and would be criminally prosecuted.  They also told him they would check regularly to ensure that the girls had not undergone FGM.  To date, the girls have not been cut.
FGM takes different forms in different countries: the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), or in its most extreme form the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva, leaving only a very small vaginal opening (infibulation).  It is estimated that more than 130 million girls and women around the world have undergone genital mutilation.  At least 2 million girls every year, 6,000 every day, are at risk of suffering FGM.  The cutting, which is generally done without anaesthetic, may have lifelong health consequences including chronic infection, severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, and psychological trauma.  Some girls die from the cutting, usually as a result of bleeding or infection.  An extreme form of the many traditional practices used around the world to deny women independence and equality, FGM is defended by both men and women in the cultures where it is practiced as a rite of passage and a social prerequisite of marriage.  It is used to control women's sexuality by safeguarding virginity and suppressing sexual desire.

Apart from prohibiting FGM under the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, Tanzania is party to various international human rights treaties that mandate the protection of girls from the practice of FGM including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the authorities listed below.  Congratulate them on the efforts made to train police on the law against FGM and the measures already taken to ensure the police carry out the law.  Note that the timely intervention of the police in some cases has saved girls from the harmful practice of FGM.  Urge the government to continue its efforts to end the practice of FGM through education as well as enforcement of the law and to bring disciplinary action against police officers and court officials who fail to implement the law appropriately.  Letters should be addressed to:

Mr. Saidi Mwema
Inspector General of Police
PO Box 9492
Dar-es-Salaam, TANZANIA
Fax: +255-22-213-6556

Honorable Mary Nagu
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs
PO Box 9050
Dar-es-Salaam, TANZANIA
Fax: +255-22-211-3236

Please send copies of letters with a request for support to:

Honorable Sophia Simba
Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children's Affairs
PO Box 3448
Dar-es-Salaam, TANZANIA
Fax: +255-22-213-3647