Death of sisters aged 10 and 11 undermines hopes of change inspired by announcement of landmark prosecution.
Two more girls in Somalia have died after undergoing female genital mutilation, just weeks after a high-profile case prompted the attorney general to announce the first prosecution against the practice in the country’s history.
Two sisters, aged 10 and 11, bled to death last week after they were cut in the remote pastoral village of Arawda North in Galdogob district, Puntland, said activist Hawa Aden Mohamed of the Galkayo Centre.
The deaths of Aasiyo and Khadijo Farah Abdi Warsame have come at a time of transition in Somalia, where 98% of all women and girls undergo FGM, the highest rate in the world. Most cases go unreported.
The case of Deeqa Dahir Nuur, 10, who haemorrhaged to death in July after she was operated on by a traditional cutter, prompted Somalia’s attorney general Ahmed Ali Dahir to send a team of investigators to her remote village with the aim of prosecuting those involved in her death.
The move was heralded at the time as a “defining moment for Somalia” by Mahdi Mohammed Gulaid, the deputy prime minister, , who said: “It is not acceptable that in the 21st century FGM is continuing in Somalia. It should not be part of our culture. It is definitely not part of the Islamic religion.”
However, activists in the country say the death of the two sisters proves that the government is not moving quickly enough to prevent further incidents.
“It is shocking that, with the massive publicity of the Deeqa case and subsequent commitment by the Somali government to do more, on the ground change does not yet seem to be happening,” said Brendan Wynne of Donor Direct Action, an international women’s group that runs a fund to end FGM. “Girls continue to die from this devastating abuse while we wait for politicians to move.”
FGM is technically illegal in Puntland, a semi-autonomous state in north-eastern Somalia, where lawmakers recently approved legislation outlawing the practice.
“Yet there seems to be reluctance in discussing and passing the anti-FGM law in Puntland, which was recently approved by the cabinet,” said Mohamed.
“We hope that this will serve as a wake-up call for those responsible to see the need to have the law in place to protect girls from this heinous practice.”
Most girls in Somalia undergo the most severe form of circumcision – during which external genitalia are removed or repositioned and the vaginal opening is sewn up, leaving only a small hole through which to pass menstrual blood – between the ages of five and nine. The operation is often performed by untrained midwives or healers using knives, razors or broken glass.
The two girls underwent the surgery on 10 September but bled continuously for 24 hours, said Mohamed. Their mother tried to take them to nearby Bursallah town to seek medical help but the girls died during the journey, according to Mohamed.
Somali-born FGM survivor and campaigner Ifrah Ahmed said the sisters’ deaths were “very upsetting” given Puntland’s professed interest in outlawing the practice.
“I’m still in shock after Deeqa’s death and hearing this [news] is very upsetting, very sad, losing two little girls again to female genital mutilation,” said Ahmed.
“Puntland has approved the anti-FGM bill and still young girls are losing their lives. Immediate action needs to be taken by international donors who support Somalia, and by the federal government of Somalia [itself].”