'When I had finished, they didn't even bleed'

The arrest this week of a 63-year-old woman in Burkina Faso accused of circumcising 16 young girls has brought home to many that genital mutilation is still widespread in the West African state, despite being outlawed eight years ago.

Adama Berry was arrested on Monday in a neighbourhood of the capital after an anonymous phone call alerted the country’s anti-excision watchdog to the illegal mass circumcision.

“Every generation has its problems; ours are finding a good job and making a good marriage,” added Kadi, a medical student. “It should not be circumcision.”

Since 1996, when the landlocked state formally declared genital mutilation illegal, the number of excisions practised in Burkina has fallen sharply, from a prevalence rate of 66% to 40%, according to a national watchdog group, the National Committee to Fight against the Practice of Excision (CNLPE).

But despite the decrease in numbers, the children going under the knife are younger and younger, according to World Health Organisation statistics, with girls less than one year old being brought to practitioners like Barry, often by their grandmothers.

“It’s the custom here. The grandmothers decide to have the girls circumcised.
We have no rights over our children,” said one enraged mother whose daughter was among those rushed to hospital following the mass excision by Barry in the courtyard of a home in Tanghin.

Barry, who has been arrested six times for performing genital mutilations, laid the girls on the ground and sliced off parts of their genitalia under driving rain.

One neighbour said the excisions were carried out “in the backyard, where they usually kill chickens”.

“When we arrived at 9am, there was blood and dirt everywhere,” said Antoine Sanou of the CNLPE.

A gynaecologist at the clinic where the girls were taken afterwards described the mutilation: “Fifteen of the girls had all or part of their clitoris removed. The two-year-old had her clitoris and labia cut off.”

Appearing on television this week, Barry pleaded for leniency.

“I know it is illegal, I was just trying to be helpful,” the 63-year-old woman said tearfully, noting that she had yet to receive the 250 CFA franc (47 US cents) payment expected from each of the families.

She said the girls had been brought to her by their grandmothers, who also supplied her with the blades used for the excisions.

“When I had finished, they didn’t even bleed. I just cut the extremities and then applied a powder made from wild plants to prevent haemorrhaging,” said Barry.

CNLPE leader Hortense Palm said the group will ask for Barry to receive the maximum penalty of three years in jail and a fine of 900 000 CFA francs.

Rights advocates Amnesty International says an estimated 135-million girls and women worldwide have been circumcised, with another two million girls at risk annually.

Pockets of resistance to the eradication of the practice remain in countries such as Mali, Niger, Togo and Ghana, where genital mutilation is still performed with the tacit approval of the community.

“It’s a cancer we cannot seem to get rid of,” Sanou said.—Sapa-AFP

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