This UN report gives great insight into the situation
in Mali, and lots to pray about.
Excision and early marriage violate girls' human rights
YELIMANE, 14 June (IRIN) - Early marriage and excision, or female
genital mutilation (FGM), are widely practiced in impoverished Mali
where together they constitute the single biggest threat to the
human rights of young girls, according to aid organisations.
In the village of Yelimane, 125 km north of Kayes and close to
the Mauritanian border, nearly all girls undergo some form of FGM
before they are married off at puberty.
For residents of Yelimane, like many across impoverished Mali,
the two violations have become traditional culture.
"In Mali, the two forms of human rights abuses most widely
faced by children are early marriage and excision," said Berthe
Aissanta Bengaly, minister for women, children and the family.
Both practices are widely justified as part of the cultural emphasis
on the importance of family, while early marriage is also seen as
a way to protect daughters from unwanted advances from men.
But the impact on the young girls is devastating, according to
Taore Oumo Toure, an activist for women's rights:
"Early marriage deprives young girls of their adolescence,"
she said. "It forces them into sexual relations and denies
them their freedom, and this has psycho-social and emotional consequences".
Girls are not given a choice over who and when they marry or whether
they are excised despite laws against both practices.
For example, forced marriage can earn a guilty party jail term
of between one and five years. If the girl is under 15, the jail
term can be as much as 20 years behind bars with 10 years hard labour.
But enforcing the law is difficult as family members are complicit
in the arrangements.
"Very often, officials have no idea that the marriage is taking
place without consent," said lawyer Bintou Bouare of a legal
aid centre for Malian women.
Since the 1990s, the government has taken a softly-softly approach
to tackling FGM, backing information and sensitisation campaigns,
but falling short of outlawing the practice.
A crudely performed operation to remove the clitoris from adolescent
girls has been misinterpreted in many strongly Islamic regions of
Mali as a religious rite of passage. The Koran does not call for
According to NGO Plan International, the practice is particularly
common in the densely populated southeast. It found that in the
districts of Kayes, Koulikoro, Segou, Sikasso and Mopti, 92.5 percent
of adult women were circumcised.
Infections following such an operation, often carried out with
rudimentary levels of hygiene, are common and can lead to sterility,
severe period pains and complications during childbirth, not to
mention loss of pleasure during sex. In fact, for circumcised women,
sexual intercourse is often a painful experience, according to doctors.
Health experts agree that as well as the immediate side effects
of excision, which these days include the transmission of HIV, complications
during pregnancy can be particularly severe.
Chances of death through haemorrhaging are increased and delivery
can damage delicate tissue around the vagina, creating fistulas
or large holes in the muscle wall, which leave a woman incontinent.
Brides who are pregnant before their young bodies are sufficiently
developed to carry a child are particularly at risk of fistulas.
For Aly Toure who lives in Kayes one of the main causes of early
marriage is poverty. Impoverished parents, he says, are eager to
have one less mouth to feed and receive the traditional dowry from
But raising a dowry is a difficult job for a young man and it is
common for new husbands to be substantially older than their brides.
Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. A government
survey in 1999 revealed that 63.8 percent of the country's 11 million
population were living in poverty and a further 21 percent in extreme
According to the United Nations Programme for Development (UNDP),
the average per capita income in Mali is just US$ 190 a year.
When, earlier this year, a 14-year-old girl from Kayes was to be
married to a religious leader, or marabout, in his 70s, local children
educated about their own rights as part of a campaign by the UN's
children's agency UNICEF, stepped in.
"The children arrived and told us what was going on and they
even took the girl's mother to the police station," Moussa
Cissoko, a UNICEF representative, told IRIN.
UNICEF is working in schools to set up 'governments of children'
to tackle the problem through a programme dubbed 'school is a friend
to kids, a friend to girls'.
"Here in Kayes, the majority of the 13 and 14 year old girls
are taken out of school to be married," teacher Dembele Makouma
Diarra told IRIN.
But according to Dioumara Cissoko, the president of a women's group
based Bamako, women are becoming more empowered.
"Before, we did the misdeed of marrying off our young daughters
very young," she acknowledged. "But now we have seen that
women can do everything that men can do. We have female ministers
and women deputies, and we will continue to fight to give a chance
to our daughters."