Some members of the Pokot in Amudat district are adjusting to life without practising female genital mutilation or FGM, a treasured cultural practice in their community. Out of the 225 villages practising FGM in Karamoja, 96 have publicly abandoned the practice. In Amudat, 34 villages have since been declared FGM free.
The practice, which involves altering of female genitalia for non-medical reasons, was outlawed in 2010 but the Pokot still carry it out in secret places. As government and human rights organisations intensify campaigns against FGM, communities that still treasure the practice also develop more skillful means to carry it out.
While in the past FGM would attract bigger ceremonies and chants, the practice is now done in quiet and isolated areas. According to the head teacher of Alakas primary school, Simon Dicobobo, girls after getting cut continue with normal errands and wear clothes. He observes that the girls from reachable families have had the opportunity to go to school. He notes that while anti FGM campaigns are famous in trading centres; hard-to-reach areas practice FGM at liberty.
Dicobobo says that his school receives more than 90 girls in primary one every year but less than five complete primary seven. The school with only two girls in primary seven this year starts noticing high dropouts among girls in primary four.
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Although scientists have cited health complications especially during child birth, the Pokot tag more dowry to girls who are cut.
Florence Chelengat, a pupil at Alakas primary school says her educated sister fetched only 15 cows because she was not cut yet uneducated girls who have undergone FGM fetch more than 30 cows as dowry. She however notes that much as the cut girls regret their choices, the cultural influence and perception compels them to run for FGM.
The minor, now in primary seven, notes that it takes courage and strong backing from the family to remain uncut. "My parents have been very supportive of me to reach this level. All my friends ran for FGM and some are married now with children but my mother ensures that am safe," Chelengat narrates.
Priscilla Nakolio, a resident of Kamuteken village in Lochengenge parish in Amudat town council, says many people stand up against FGM during public functions but do the contrary in their villages. Nakolio blames the local leaders for fearing to face the communities on issues of FGM.
"Our leaders work undercover. They fear facing the community on FGM. Even when they hear that some girls have been mutilated, they keep quiet or inform police but warn not be identified as police informers," Nakolio told URN
Docus Chelaini, the Amudat district vice chairperson agrees that politicians fear speaking directly about banning FGM. "It will be difficult for us to go back to the voters in the next election. We talk about it but we tackle it indirectly. We tell communities that government has intelligence officers in all villages to report those cutting girls," Chelaini said in an interview.
Marrianna Garafolo, the FGM specialist working with the UN children's agency, UNICEF, says more efforts have been employed to reach all communities to abandon the practice.
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Out of the 225 villages practising FGM in Karamoja, 96 have publicly abandoned the practice. In Amudat, 34 villages have since been declared FGM free.
The Pokot since 2009 celebrate their culture day every 1st day of July but the celebrations for this year were pushed to July 27th over financial constraints among other issues. This year's celebrations emphasised community to community outreaches as an effective means to promote FGM abandonment.
Last year, UNICEF published a report indicating that at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM. This is double the number recorded the previous year by the World Health Organization.
In 2009, Uganda passed a law criminalizing FGM. The Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Act imposes harsh penalties for those participating in the practice, including a 10-year-jail sentence for any person convicted of practicing FGM and life imprisonment for incidences that lead to death, disability or result in the victim's infection with HIV/AIDS.
Despite the ban, however, the cultural ritual is still being practiced among the Pokot, Sabiny and Tepeth tribes in the districts of Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo. Other countries where FGM is practiced include Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt and Indonesia.