Somalia faces criticism over FGM policies after two girls die from the procedure

In July of 2018, the death of Deeqa Dahir Nuur after undergoing female genital mutilation launched a landmark investigation that many hoped would bring an end to the practice in Somalia. Nuur’s case made history as it led to the first prosecution in a female genital mutilation case in the nation’s history. Two months later, though, it appears that little has changed as activists are claiming that sisters Aasiyo and Khadijo Farah Abdi Warsame, aged 10 and 11, died on 11 September after being subjected to the procedure that the UN has declared a human rights violation.

Female genital mutilation, also referred to as FGM, has been an ongoing issue for the people of Somalia. Throughout much of the nation’s history, the practice was not considered to be unlawful. In 2012, Somalia unveiled a new Constitution which officially declared the practice of FGM illegal. Specifically, Article 15 Section 4 of the Constitution states that the ‘circumcision of girls is a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture. The circumcision of girls is prohibited.’ While many anti-FGM advocates initially supported the Constitution’s inclusion of this passage, its deliberately imprecise wording has done little to protect the women and girls of Somalia. Since the Constitution fails to define what constitutes the ‘circumcision of girls’ and does not outline a specific punishment for those caught performing it, it has been extremely difficult to prosecute FGM cases in Somalia based on this section of the Constitution alone. Further hindering the ability to prosecute SOMETHING is the fact that there are no national laws that formally criminalize the practice. Because of this, Somalia has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world, with reports that up to 97.9% of women and girls in Somalia have undergone FGM.

Image Courtesy of Amnon Shavit via Own work © 2004, some rights reserved.

A few months ago, though, a landmark prosecution brought hope to those looking to end FGM in Somalia. The death of 10-year-old Deeqa Dahir Nuur after undergoing FGM in central Somalia sparked international outrage as activists pushed for clear and definitive legislation criminalizing FGM. Ahmed Ali Dahir, Somalia’s Attorney General, announced plans to prosecute the ‘cutter’ who performed the procedure on Nuur. This would be done not under Article 15 Section 4 of the Constitution, but under a provision of the Somali Penal Code, which declares it unlawful to cause ‘very grievous’ harm to another person, which is characterized by ‘loss of a limb, or a mutilation which renders the limb useless, or the loss of the use of an organ or of the capacity to procreate.’ If successful, this would be the first time someone had been jailed for complications relating to FGM in Somalia. Some advocates questioned Attorney General Dahir’s sincerity in his effort, though. Nimco Ali, a British Somali anti-FGM advocate and victim of the practice herself, told NPR that she believes that” the AG was doing this all for press. When the cameras are not there, I doubt there is much interest in the Deeqa case or any others.”

As officials continue to investigate the Deeqa Dahir Nuur case, reports out of the Somalian state of Puntland are claiming that sisters Aasiyo and Khadijo Farah Abdi Warsame, aged 10 and 11, died after being subjected to FGM on the 11 of September. Of the six Somalian states, Puntland is the only one to have passed definitive anti-FGM legislation. Although it gained its autonomy in 1998, Puntland is still internationally recognized as being part of the nation of Somalia. In 2013, religious officials in Puntland signed a Fatwa, or a ruling on a point of Islamic law, shunning the practice of FGM. Despite this public condemnation, over 97% of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 in Puntland have undergone some form of FGM, many of whom suffer life-altering complications. While lawmakers in Puntland claim to have a plan to end FGM in their state, for many, progress is not occurring fast enough. As Somalian activist Ifrah Ahmed told The Guardian, “Puntland has approved the anti-FGM bill and still young girls are losing their lives.”

For the people of Somalia, it has become clear that FGM will continue to occur until clear changes in national legislation are made. For Ahmed, “immediate action needs to be taken by international donors who support Somalia, and by the federal government of Somalia [itself].”


Banner Image: Image Courtesy of AMISOM Public Information via Flickr © 2014, some rights reserved.