Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 May 2017
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs has completely dissociated government from the story – “Religious Leaders schooled on FGM strategy”, published in the New Citizen newspaper on Thursday 18th May 2017.
Speaking to journalists in Freetown on Friday, 19th May, the Director of Gender – Mr. Charles Vandy (Photo) condemned the statements of one Dr. Owolabi Bjalkandra who spoke of a so-called ‘’National Strategy on FGM” which the government says “does not even exist”.
The fact is that a draft strategy sponsored by UNICEF has been long ago discarded by Government.
However Dr. Bjalkandra had been quoted in last Friday’s New Citizen newspaper, saying that Government of Sierra Leone has such a Strategy which recognizes that Bondo Society abuses the rights of women and girls during Bondo initiation.
In reaction, Mr. Vandy said that the statement made by Dr. Bjalkandra was very unfortunate and did not represent official policy. He said, the position of Government is to implore traditional Bondo women leaders to “totally avoid” the initiation of girls below the age of 18 years into the Bondo society, but the Government “does not stop adult women from choosing to be initiated”.
Therefore, he said the statement of Dr. Bjalkandra referencing women alongside children was completely unfortunate.
Mr. Vandy said government has not banned Bondo, but rather they are imploring Bondo women to practice the positive aspects of it. He said, the positive aspects of Bondo practice include non-initiation of girls under the age of 18 years, and not to forcibly initiate women above the age of 18.
Mr. Vandy added that at the National level “Government has made tremendous effort in ensuring the advancement and promotion of women and girls’ rights”, and that this includes the rights of women to willingly choose to be initiated into Bondo Society.
The Director of Gender also further added that the Child Rights Act of Sierra Leone defines a child as anyone under the age of 18 years old, and therefore it is not permissible to initiate girls into secret society who are under18 years.
He said that the Government of Sierra Leone respects Bondo Society as one of the country’s traditional institutions which contribute to the development of the country, and that it wants the Bondo Society to respect a girl’s right to attain the age of 18 years and be able to make a choice of their own free will.
He however emphasised that whilst women aged 18 years and above can freely choose to be initiated into the Bondo Society, no woman should be forced into Bondo.