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Cameroon Says Female Circumcision Resurfacing Because of COVID-19, Other Crises

FILE - Girls walk on a road in Maroua, Cameroon, March 17, 2016.
FILE - Girls walk on a road in Maroua, Cameroon, March 17, 2016.

Rights groups in Cameroon marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Saturday by protesting the resurgence of the practice, also known as FGM. The government says COVID-19, the country’s separatist crisis and Boko Haram terrorism have stopped campaigns on the dangers of the practice and made providers return to FGM, which was being abandoned. Rights groups and FGM victims are pushing for an end to the practice.

At least 100 women Saturday visited the Briqueterie and Tsinga neighborhoods in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, where they say female genital mutilation, or FGM, is resurging. The visit was part of activities marking the 14th International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. The government said there is a resurgence of FGM in the neighborhood because some practitioners have relocated from Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria to Yaoundé.

This year’s theme for the day in Cameroon was "No excuse for inaction even in a COVID-19 context, unite, fund and act to end FGM.”

Among the women was Comfort Mvoto of the NGO Action Against FGM. Mvoto says people her association had convinced three years ago to stop FGM are again circumcising girls.

She says her association is again telling women who stopped female circumcision and are now resuming the practice that it is illegal and unhealthy to cut a girl’s clitoris. She says her association wants all men and women who circumcise girls to know that the practice is dangerous. She says FGM promoters should be aware that many uncircumcised girls grow up, get married and live happily with their husbands.

Mvoto said the practice was increasing in the Far North region on Cameroon’s border with Nigeria and the English-speaking Southwest region because campaigns to stop FGM have stalled due Boko Haram terrorism and separatist crisis.

The Briqueterie and Tsinga neighborhoods have a high concentration of people from Kousseri on Cameroon’s northern border with Chad and Nigeria. They are some of Cameroon’s ethnic groups that believe in FGM as a way to keep women faithful to their husbands.

Cameroon says about 20% of girls in some communities around Kousseri were circumcised in 2010. By 2015, the number of girls circumcised in Kousseri dropped to 2% but rebounded to 10% last year.

Lumli Amdangtii, a 42-year-old woman says she stopped circumcising girls says in 2017 when the government and NGOs gave her $200 to start a business. She says the business has crumbled and she has gone back to FGM to earn a living from it. She says in December she began circumcision as a sign of respect to her tradition that encourages FGM and to earn a living from the practice.

She says a girl who is circumcised does not have sexual desires and remains faithful when she gets married. She says women who are circumcised are hardworking, since they are not tempted into prostitution. She says she decided to restart FGM to improve her living conditions with the money she makes and because there are many parents who want their daughters circumcised.

Cameroon says the separatist crisis that has killed at least 3,000 people in its English-speaking western regions within the past four years makes it difficult to gather statistics. The government, however, says hundreds of girls and women seeking refuge in French-speaking towns within the past four years are circumcised.

The Yaoundé protest was organized by rights groups, humanitarian NGOs and Cameroon's government.

FILE - Marie-Thérèse Abena Ondoa, Cameroon's minister of women's empowerment and the family, in Yaounde, Feb. 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)
FILE - Marie-Thérèse Abena Ondoa, Cameroon's minister of women's empowerment and the family, in Yaounde, Feb. 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

Marie-Thérèse Abena Ondoa, Cameroon’s minister of women’s empowerment and the family, says weekly education campaigns against FGM along Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria have been stopped because of Boko Haram terrorism. She says FGM providers who were given funds to start other businesses are becoming poorer because Boko Haram terrorism and crisis in the English-speaking western regions have destroyed their trade.

Ondoa says COVID-19 that was first reported in Cameroon in March reduced government financial assistance to FGM providers, and they are returning to the practice.

"It is an income-generating activity, that is what they tell us, and particularly at this moment, coronavirus has brought reduction of income for most people and some find it a way to get a bit of money. So, the practice is real, and we should all join our forces to see the elimination of that practice that is detrimental to the health of women," she said.

Ondoa promised what she said will be a renewed government-led campaign to stop FGM.