Child marriages, female circumcision: Senegal’s 557 communities say no more

Child marriages, female circumcision: Senegal’s 557 communities say no more

A total of 557 communities in the department of Médina Yoro Foulah in Senegal have recently made a public declaration to abandon the harmful traditional practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage, non-governmental organisation Tostan announced this week.

Though planning for this public declaration began in October, Tostan said the actual process of changing the social norms underlying these practices in these areas commenced years earlier.

The organisation began working in Médina Yoro Foulah in 2008, creating awareness-raising through social mobilisation campaigns, radio programs and through its notorious Community Empowerment Programme (CEP).

Since 2011, four zonal declarations have taken place within Médina Yoro Foulah, the NGO said.

Amsatou Boiro, the president of the women’s group in the declaring village of Waourbé, said her community had never participated in the CEP until they were visited by a Tostan social mobilisation team.

It is believed that many people who live in these areas are Al-Pulaar (Peuls in French), an ethnic group which is thought to be ‘the best in the world’ in practicing these Dark Age practices.

The Peuls, who originated from the Horn of Africa  and are now scattered all over West Africa, including in Gabon and Cameroon, force their girls aged as young as 10, 11 and 12 to marry old Peul men of up to 50-year-old, after removing (cutting) their clitoris.

But experts, NGOs, as well as the United Nations said these practices have the potential of physically and psychologically harming these girls and traumatising them for the rest of their lives.

Tostan’s relentless work throughout Senegal, including in Médina Yoro Foulah, in the past decade has led many communities in West Africa to understand the consequences of these immoral practices, and commit to abandonment at this public declaration.

The Médina Yoro Foulah abandonment took place amid a colourful ceremony, where moving speeches were given by community leaders, government officials, and representatives from organisations including UNICEF.

“Participants were entertained throughout by traditional Pulaar drummers, a beautiful skit performed by a group of youth, and a celebrated young rapper from the Kolda region,” Tostan said in a statement.

“When it came to the reading of the declaration in French, Pulaar and Soninké, youth gathered around with wooden signs bearing the names of the different districts that were pledging their abandonment of these harmful traditional practices.”

Photo: A child wife and mother hard at work in Senegal. Credit: Women News Network

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