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Female Circumcision Goes Underground In Tanzania

PANA, 12 August 2000

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (PANA) - The eradication of female genital mutilation is facing new barriers in Tanzania as communities carrying out the practice go underground for fear of prosecution, activists say.

This was because of the Sexual Offences Act 1998, which makes it an offence to carry on the practice on females below 18 years.

It is true that the practice is escalating despite of concerted efforts to curb it, the executive director of the Legal Human Rights Centre, Helen Kijo-Bisimba, told PANA.

Kijo-Bisimba, whose non-governmental organisation has conducted extensive surveys on the practice, was speaking in an interview.

She said research findings revealed that with the new law in force, the practice, which mainly involves the removal of the clitoris, was now being conducted secretly.

According to a 1999 Demographic and Human Survey, 67.9 percent of all women in Dodoma and 25.4 percent of all women in Singida were circumcised in 1996.

In Morogoro, 20.2 percent faced the razor, in Iringa 27 percent, in Mara 43.7 percent and in Mtwara 2.9 percent, she said.

She added that at least 85 percent of all females living in the rural areas had their clitorises removed in observance of the age-old custom.

The practice was found to be deeply ingrained among the Maasai of the northern region of Arusha where all women interviewed during the survey had undergone the ritual, she said.

This is because the practice is strongly supported by the elders and young people who fear non-acceptance in their community of family and peers, she added.

While it is also kept alive because of the lack of education in many girl children, culture and social identity are the most cited reasons for the continued practice today.

The Maasai consider the tradition an important heritage that must be perpetuated in order to be acceptable among their ancestral spirits after death, Kijo-Bisimba said.

The same view is shared with the Chagga ethnic group as well, she added.

The government called the practice despicable. Apart from passing the Sexual Offences Act, which has also come under criticism, the state has done little to stop the practice.