Bondo Secret society spread fear and sleepless nights among rural families

Sierra Leone secret society and its traditional practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains night mare for most families especially in rural settings. The practice which is deep rooted in Sierra Leonean culture and politics, over the years have created a culture of fear among young families who now sees the practices outdated. The practice is also posing a major obstacle to opponents of the custom.

It is also taking away dignity of young girls but also plunging families into poverty and misery. I have visited several districts and community where the practice is rampant because it is used as a political and campaign tool during elections.

In Sembehun in the Bo district families including the Kanneh who in 2010 lost ten year old Lucinda are still struggling to come to terms with the incident. The family also lost another son in the person of Solomon Kanneh who flee the country since 2013 and his whereabouts is still unknown.

Young offspring’s of this family most especially the girls remains in constant fear anytime the story of their late sister and cousin is narrated to them.

12-year-old Baindu is always in fear whenever the planting season ends and school are closed for holiday. This is the time girls are initiated. Baindu goes to bed at night very scared of closing her eyes to sleep. She fears members of the, Bondo society will come for her so that she can be initiated into the society.

Sometimes the family will have no power on their own as FGM is seen as a normal process and even when death occurs is it describe ‘The will of God”. Nobody has ever been prosecuted in Sierra Leone for the death of girls who died during initiation. This makes the situation worrisome and that much effort have not been made to curtail the practice despite the many advocacy over the years.

Baindu definitely has every reason to be afraid. She knows her long time cousin died during initiation and that she too will one day become victim as long as she decides to stay in Sembehun town in the Bo district.

“I sometimes feel like running away anytime I think of this but where could I go. My parents are poor and if the chief says all young girls should be initiated I could be among she said.

Girls who avoid been cut either run away from their family or have strong relations who stand against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  

“I am not safe in this living with my family in this house. I’m not safe in this community,” she said. “I am afraid, when I go to bed, it is possible I will be grab one day whether I like it or not.

Baindu’s story is just one among many other stories of girls in Sierra Leone and this is a major challenge for anti-FGM campaigners and activist in and out of Sierra Leone, touching on the silent and hidden power of the Bondo secret society, who carry out the cutting as an initiation into womanhood. This practice speaks volume of the country’s backward cultural practice and its ancient structures.

Soweis and people who still sees the practice worthwhile refers to activists as puppet of western powers and money making spree. They also see advocacy on the practice as an attack on their culture which have been around for decades. The societies exist in every village and town across Sierra Leone and a vital communications link between politicians and rural communities. This gives them the power to tell women how to vote.

Politicians in Sierra Leone hardly talk about FGM but will engage the practitioners when they need vote. Talking about Bondo in public is a taboo and one can even be summoned and brought to the chief if the person is caught talking about the secret society in the open. This is how strong the society is making the practice very difficult to abandon and put aside.

The Bondo Bush where women and girls are cut is believe to be training ground for young women. This relate to early marriage and teenage pregnancy and the sooner girls are initiated they will now be ready for marriage.  

Activist Lawyer Mariama Dumbuya in one of her many advocacy drive “upon careful reflection, I support the call for our Legislature to speedily enact a law that will clearly ban FGM for under 18s. However, in the case of above 18 years, let individual choice prevail.

She said majority of initiates of FGM are mostly under 18s. So banning FGM will reduce the practice of FGM to minimal level or almost nonexistent level.

It will be difficult and rare for someone above 18 to willingly subject herself to FGM. In effect, the number of initiates will be drastically reduced, she said.

I read somewhere that Islam supports FGM in order to reduce the desires of women. I wonder why anyone will like to reduce the desire of another, by cutting off what God in His wisdom created.

There is no reference to FGM in the Qur’an (see Denny Federick Mathewson (2001) in McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, 1 AD, pg 366-367).

Madam Dumbuya said a child initiated might grow up to want a clitoris. It is unfair, inhumane, and a violation of the rights of the child and gross abuse to deprive the initiated girl child of the right to select whether or not to have her clitoris removed at the age of 18 years upwards.

A number of countries have abandon harmful traditional practice but the practice is still rampant in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone first lady Mrs. Fatima Bio this years launched the ‘Hands of our Girls and ambitious campaign that talks about early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and abuse of young girls. But not in any time did the campaign single out FGM which is a leading cause of early marriage and teenage pregnancy in the country.

Baindu and her family still continue to live in fear. They are neither protected by law nor are they protected by the very community where they live.

As earlier as this year again on January 14th 2019, Solomon Kanneh’s parents and family for the first time openly spoke to media about and against the way their son was chased out of their home and country in 2013. This family again came under a fresh attack by Bondo women. They also became victims of bondo madness. The bondo women again went to their house for the second time in the last few years vandalised the house and chased the family out of their house.

Published: 27th January 2019

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