The Chinese coronavirus pandemic has caused a resurgence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Cameroon over the past year, Cameroon’s government said this week.
“Cameroon says about 20 percent of girls in some communities around [the northern city of] Kousseri were circumcised in 2010. By 2015, the number of girls circumcised in Kousseri dropped to 2 percent but rebounded to 10 percent last year,” Voice of America (VOA) reported on February 7.
Several central African ethnic groups residing in Cameroon practice the FGM ritual, in which a girl’s clitoris and other genitalia are hacked at or removed entirely. The surgeries are often performed by medically unqualified women or men in the local community paid by the girl’s family to carry out the ritual cutting. FGM can cause extreme damage to a girl’s physical and psychological health and may result in her death. Adherents of FGM believe it helps ensure that a girl remains faithful to her future husband.
A government-led campaign to curtail the practice of FGM in Cameroon had successfully brought down recorded rates of the practice in the years immediately preceding 2020. Budget reductions and limited access to targeted communities due to the coronavirus pandemic caused the educational campaign to lose momentum over the past year, however, resulting in a resurgence of FGM.
The coronavirus pandemic has likewise caused an upsurge in regional terror attacks by the Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram, whose incursions often spill over into bordering states, such as Cameroon and Chad. The terrorism, coupled with increased separatist violence within Cameroon, have further impeded the government’s work to eradicate FGM in the country’s north, which borders Nigeria and Chad.
Weekly anti-FGM education seminars organized by the Cameroon government along the country’s northern border with Nigeria have been halted due to safety concerns amid the Boko Haram resurgence, according to Marie-Thérèse Abena Ondoa, Cameroon’s minister of women’s empowerment and the family. Many FGM practitioners who previously received government funding to abstain from the practice and start alternative businesses have lost the funding due to pandemic-related budget cuts and have resumed FGM services within their communities, Ondoa told VOA.
“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.
Africa records the highest rates of FGM globally. A 12-year-old girl in Egypt died from injuries sustained during an FGM procedure in January 2020. Other African nations including Kenya and Somalia have also documented a spike in FGM during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.