Burkina Faso: Urgent need to protect girls from FGM and forced marriage

48 girls suffered medical complications following female genital mutilation last month
More than half of girls marry before their eighteenth birthday

The plight of 48 girls who had complications from female genital mutilation (FGM) highlights the urgent need for better protection of sexual and reproductive rights in the country, Amnesty International said today. 
As the international community marks this 11 October the International Day of the Girl Child, the organization is calling on Burkina Faso’s authorities to take concrete steps to protect girls from the disastrous consequences of FGM, and to commit to ending forced marriage.
“Although FGM is prohibited in Burkina Faso the practice remains widespread, and often takes place in deplorable unsanitary conditions,” said Yves Boukari Traoré, Amnesty International’s Executive Director in Burkina Faso. 
“The recent case of 48 girls who had complications show that the authorities need to take a much tougher stance on FGM, including disseminating information about sexual and reproductive rights and ensuring that the perpetrators of FGM are brought to justice.” 
Last month, 48 girls, including 10 from Kaya (Centre North) and 38 from Ouagadougou, the capital, suffered complications following FGM, causing a wave of indignation to sweep the country and forcing the government to make a statement on the situation.
The Minister for Women, National Solidarity and the Family said: “The recent cases of female genital mutilation have been referred to the ministries responsible for security and justice so that the rights of victims are ensured.” The Ministry also announced the arrest of the suspected perpetrators.
The practice of FGM has been illegal in Burkina Faso since 1996. Under the Penal Code, the courts can impose custodial sentences of up to 21 years for those found guilty and a fine of between 750 and 4,500 euros (CFA500,000 and CFA 3 million). 
The practice is also recognized to be a form of violence against girls and women under international law, and is explicitly prohibited by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), ratified by Burkina Faso in 2006.
The practice is a major cause of death and disability among women and girls in Burkina Faso. According to the Multi-Sector Survey (EMC), in 2015, 67.6% of Burkina women aged between 15 and 49 said they had undergone FGM.
Even though FGM is banned, tradition and custom hold such sway that the practice continues to take place secretly in deplorable sanitary conditions, and there have been only occasional prosecutions.
In Burkina Faso, 51% of females marry before their eighteenth birthday, making it the fifth most affected country in the world in relation to forced and early marriage.
The practice has repercussions for other human rights and may lead to early pregnancy and pregnancy-related complications, to the detriment of the health and education of girls and young women.
Thanks to the work of civil society, in November 2015 Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity adopted a national strategy to prevent and end child marriage (2016-2025). Following this important and encouraging step, the government has started reforming the law, providing more aid to victims, conducting a national study on child marriage and preparing a communication plan to increase public awareness.
Nevertheless, the national strategy only set a target of a 20% reduction in child marriage between 2016 and 2025, rather than aiming to end the practice. This is incompatible with the government’s obligations under international law, notably the Maputo Protocol, which sets the minimum age for marriage for women at 18, and with the Sustainable Development Goals, which demand immediate and sustained action to eliminate child marriage by 2030.
“We are calling on the Burkina authorities to bring their targets in line with international law, and ensure that girls are free to decide if, when and who they marry,” said  Yves Boukari Traoré.  
For more information, please contact Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English):  +1 613-744-7667 ext. 236; lscholey@amnesty.ca