FGM And The Law Around The World - Equality Now

FGM And The Law Around The World

Ending FGM requires a multi-sectoral approach that brings together law enforcement agencies, child protection professionals, educators, physicians, traditional and religious leaders, government agencies, advocates, and survivors. 

As Equality Now and our partners in the international community continue to work to end FGM by 2030, here’s a look at how the law is struggling and succeeding in some of the most high stakes areas for FGM.  

The UNFPA estimates that at least 59 countries have passed laws against FGM, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Spain, Norway,  Sweden and New Zealand.

Of the 29 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation (FGM) is traditionally practiced, 26 have laws prohibiting FGM. Among African nations with laws prohibiting FGM, penalties range from monetary fines to a minimum of three months to life in prison. Others continue to struggle to enforce legislation.

Kenya: An Upward Trend...Down

FGM is illegal in Kenya, with a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 200,000 shillings (USD $2000). FGM is highly unpopular in Kenya, with the 92.5 percent of women and 88.8 percent of men believing that the practice should cease, according to 28 Too Many. Since the enactment of the laws against FGM in 2011, the overall rates of the practice have steadily declined, from 28 percent of women girls having been subjected to FGM in 2008, compared to 21 percent in 2014 DHS study.

But despite having laws in place, including the Childrens Act 2001 and the Prohibition of  FGM Act 2011 that stipulates against cross border FGM, medicalization. and provides harsh penalties for those found culpable for facilitating the practice, Kenya has struggled to enforce its laws.

The struggle has been especially pronounced along the country’s border with Tanzania, where the law only prohibits FGM on girls below 18, as well as with Uganda, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Girls who live in rural parts of the country, especially those who live on Kenya’s borders, are at the greatest risk of being taken out of Kenya and subjected to “cross border” FGM.

Learn more about Equality Now’s work to eliminate FGM in Kenya.

Mauritania: A Law With Little Protection

Although FGM is illegal in Mauritania, the law only applies to girls under age 18, and if a girl or her family report dangerous effects like infection or death linked to FGM. Moreover, there are no punishments in place for those who perform or seek to procure FGM. Girls and women who are at risk of undergoing FGM are offered no protection under the law, and there have been no cases of arrests or judicial proceedings related to FGM since the adoption of the legislation in 2005. In July 2018, Equality Now, along with Association Mauritanienne de Droits de l’Homme (AMDH), submitted a letter to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights prior to a meeting of the Committee on the Rights of the Child urging the committee to recommend that Mauritania should enact and enforce a comprehensive law banning FGM.

Mali: Still Awaiting The Passage of A Law

There is currently no law in place banning FGM in Mali. Mali, along with Liberia and Sierra Leone, are the only West African countries that have no legislation in place banning FGM. Multiple laws have been proposed banning the practice, most recently when a law was drafted to address gender based violence. But, in a country where 79.1 percent of women and 79.1 percent  of men believe the practice should continue, attempts to ban FGM have been met with much opposition.

Equality Now has continued to press for the enactment of a law against FGM in Mali, working with youth groups and our partner organizations on the ground, as well as with other international organizations.

Liberia: A Ban Elapses, and a Lack of Knowledge Persists

In January 2018, on her last day in office, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, issued an executive order banning the practice of FGM for one year. The ban applied only to girls under 18, with punishments and fines determined on a case by case basis.

Even with a deeply imperfect law in place, experts saw less of a decline in FGM rates than anticipated, in part because of a lack of knowledge about the ban among the country’s most vulnerable populations. The state also failed to adequately coordinate the enforcement of the ban, adding to an environment in which FGM could effectively continue almost unchallenged. Concerningly, the number of counties practicing FGM in LIberia has increased from 10 to 11.

Learn more about Equality Now’s efforts to end FGM in Liberia and our campaign to call on the government to enact a comprehensive anti-FGM law.

Sierra Leone: A Law Would Help Make Stories Like Miatta’s A Thing of the Past

There is currently no law in Sierra Leone prohibiting FGM. Sierra Leone ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of the Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) in 2015 but placed a reservation on article 5 that imposes positive obligations on the state to prohibit FGM by enacting and enforcing laws against the practice. Like other countries that have witnessed and transitioned from conflict, displaced populations may return from their new homes, or send their children to their countries of origin. Sierra Leone has been the site of a practice known as “vacation cutting.” During school vacation, a girl may be brought to her family’s country of origin from abroad to undergo FGM.

When Miatta and her younger sister, from Georgia, USA, were left in the care of her grandmother during a family trip to her parents’ native Sierra Leone, they were subjected to FGM in order to be initiated into the secret bundu society, which, in addition to teaching young girls about cultural traditions within their community, also performs FGM.

I want others to hear my story because I don’t want other girls to go through what me and my sister went through...I had nightmares about my experience and I jumped at the thought of what happened.”

Read Miatta’s story in full and learn more about how we are working to end FGM in Sierra Leone.

Benin: Enforcing the Law and a Robust Penal System

FGM has been illegal since 2003. Recent data suggests that legal progress, and the effective enforcement of laws, including laws prohibiting “cross border” FGM has seen the rates of FGM decrease among younger girls and women in Benin. Benin has a layered penal system in response to the crime of FGM, which carries a punishment between six months and three years in prison, with a fine of up to two million francs, (USD $3,482 ). If FGM is performed on a minor, it carries a sentence of three to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to three million francs (USD $5,228). If a girl dies from complications related to FGM, there is a sentence of five to twenty years forced labor, and a fine between three and six million francs (USD $5,228-$10,456).

Burkina Faso: Numbers Are Declining, But Others Are Still Slipping Through The Cracks

The law against FGM in Burkina Faso has seen a steady decline in rates of FGM, though organizations have struggled to reach more rural communities. Experts point to the ongoing need for the law to be translated into local languages, and the need to further strengthen relationships across borders to build upon the success the law has had already.

Recent years have seen a surge of girls taken across the border to Mali and Côte’d’Ivoire to be subjected to FGM, underpinning the importance for Burkina Faso to close the existing legal loophole that does not criminalize “cross border” FGM. Burkina Faso has been uniquely successful at holding actors and facilitators of FGM accountable for their crimes, but aiding or procuring FGM is yet to be formally prohibited by law. By codifying these prohibitions into its legal code, Burkina Faso stands to send an even stronger message to perpetrators that the end of FGM within reach. In February 2019, the thirty-second Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government designated Burkina Faso’s president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré as African Union Champion on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation.

With a little more than a decade before the 2030 SDG target to end female genital mutilation, the  international community must work together end FGM and to ensure no woman or girl is deprived of her health, her dignity, or her ability to realize her full potential because she has been subjected to this form of torture.

Additionally, we must consider how we measure, invest and support each of the 193 countries across Africa, the Asia Pacific region, the Middle-East, the Americas, Europe and Eurasia who have committed to ending FGM. We must also encourage activists, CSOs, intergovernmental bodies, and funders move forward as one to hold States, International and regional bodies, and donors to account.


Working together, we can end FGM by 2030. Take action today.