Law Prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
Burkina Faso: Recognised by the Future Policy Award 2014, Burkina Faso’s approach to the eradication of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is exemplary. The introduction of a law criminalising those that practice FGM/C, as well as their accomplices, signalled growing commitment by the government and was the outcome of sustained advocacy efforts. The effective implementation of the law in Burkina Faso is ensured through a range of accompanying measures, defined in a national action plan, and initiatives in the field of social policy, education and public health. The approach has proven successful in reducing FGM/C, holding perpetrators accountable and changing attitudes. With broad and long standing public and political support, it will likely stay a priority irrespective of changes in political leadership.
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- The Penal Code of Burkina Faso was amended in 1996 to prohibit female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
- Effective implementation is supported by a national action plan and a range of accompanying measures and initiatives, including in the fields of social policy, education and public health, with a strong focus on awareness raising and the involvement of various stakeholders and communities.
- The approach has led to strong support among the general population and enabled significant progress in the fight against FGM/C.
- The government does not rely only on donor funding for the implementation, but also allocates funds from the national budget.
Law No.43/96/ADP of 1996 Prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation. [In French]
(Loi 1996-043, code pénal 1996, chapitre II « crimes et délits contre la famille et les bonnes moeurs », Section 2). [In French]
Presidential Decree no. AN VII-318/FP/SANAS/SEAS of 18 May 1990 establishing a National Committee against the Practice of FGM (the Comité National de Lutte Contre la Pratique de l’Excision (CNLPE)) which in 1997 gained a Permanent Secretariat.
National Action Plan 2009–2013 to promote the elimination of FGM with a perspective of Zero Tolerance (Plan d’action national (2009 – 2013) de promotion de l’élimination des mutilations génitales féminines dans la perspective de la tolérance zéro, mai 2009)
Establishment by Decree no. 2001-258/PRES/PM/MASSN of 6 June 2001, of the 18th May as a National Day to Combat the Practice of Excision. Internationally, the 6th February is recognised as International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation after the adoption of Resolution A/RES/67/146 on 20 December 2012.
Act no. 049-2005/AN of 22 December 2005 on reproductive health (Loi n° 049-2005/AN du 22 décembre 2005 portant Santé de la Reproduction).
The Constitution of Burkina Faso guarantees the equality of men and women (Art. 1) as well as the protection of life safety and physical integrity (Art. 2) and the right to health (Art. 26). [In French]
Burkina Faso has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which explicitly recognises that practices harmful to women, such as FGM/C, are violations of human rights in 1987, its Optional Protocol in 2005 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which includes provisions to protect children against harmful practices in 1990.
Regional documents, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter) (1981), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), which calls upon States to take appropriate measures to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which calls upon States to take measures to eliminate FGM/C and other traditional practices that are harmful to women were ratified by Burkina Faso on 19 May 2005.
The law criminalises the practice of female genital mutilation, as well as the failure to report it. Whereas other countries also have similar legal provisions, it is the exemplary implementation of the law in Burkina Faso which led to its recognition by the Future Policy Award 2014.
In the 1990s, the government, in collaboration with civil society, committed to the abandonment of FGM/C with its efforts coordinated by a National Committee to Fight the Practice of Excision (CNLPE]. It has made significant and sustained efforts to disseminate the law using multiple channels of communication, and effectively enforces the law: cutters and their accomplices (generally parents) are arrested and prosecuted.
The law provides for legal sanctions and is accompanied by a range of measures to raise awareness and understanding among all stakeholders (including outreach to community and religious leaders and communication in local languages) and to ensure comprehensive health care services for survivors. A national action plan and a range of policy measures in related fields together provide a comprehensive framework to support implementation, effectively leading to a reduction in FGM/C. Other measures include an emergency hotline, capacity-building measures in the criminal justice system, behaviour change communication measures, the inclusion of information on FGM/C in school curricula and training for service providers.
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- Though there is still reliance on bilateral and multilateral donors, the government has been allocating a budget to the CNLPE for the coordination of measures against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and the implementation of the law.
- The importance of eradicating FGM/C is acknowledged as a human rights, gender equality and social development issue.
- A strong focus is placed on prevention, including awareness raising/attitudinal and behaviour change campaigns and education programmes teaching the harmful effects of FGM/C on girls and women, including through inclusion in primary and secondary school curricula.
- All sectors of civil society were closely involved in the development of this law, as well as in ensuring its implementation across government.
- Participation of stakeholders is formalised through the CNLPE. [In French]
- An SOS help line exists to report cases of FGM/C, as well as making available rehabilitation and medical care for survivors.
- Monitoring is ensured by funding partners and civil society organisations.
- A strong partnership has been established across several government ministries and between government and civil society, traditional and religious leaders.
- The law adopts a comprehensive approach encompassing prevention measures, provision of services for survivors and sanctions for perpetrators.
- Monitoring and evaluation of activities are ensured by funding partners UNFPA and UNICEF and ‘lessons-learnt’ are used to adapt the programme over time.
- The law and its implementation are innovative in the social, cultural, religious and historical context.
- Local specificities are taken into account, but it is still replicable elsewhere (in particular in the region).
FGM/C has long been widespread in Burkina Faso. Women’s rights activists have been highlighting this human rights violation and its devastating impact on girls’ and women’s lives for several decades, calling since the mid 1980s for a law on FGM/C.
In 1990, the National Committee to Fight the Practice of Excision (CNLPE) was established by Presidential decree, with the First Lady as the honorary chairperson. The Committee includes members of the Burkina Faso Women’s Union, the Burkina Faso Midwives’ Association, the Nurses’ Association and the Burkina Faso Movement for Human and People’s Rights. Traditional village leaders pledged their support to the Committee which plays a key role in coordinating and leading activities against FGM/C, such as the national campaign to educate communities about the health problems caused by FGM/C.
According to a 1999 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) of 6,445 women nationally, 71.6 % of the women of Burkina Faso, regardless of class and religion, and often regardless of region or ethnic group, have undergone this procedure. Discrimination against women and children, including female genital mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is considered one of the greatest violations of human rights in the country. It is in this context that the 1996 penal code 43/96/ADP was enacted and it went into effect in February 1997.
The objective of the 1996 law is to protect and promote the rights of women, by criminalising the practice of FGM/C, as well as complicity in it and to encourage a greater understanding among the population for the need to eradicate this practice.
Specifically, the penal code states:
Article 380 – Anyone who harms the female genital organs by total ablation, excision, infibulation, desensitisation or any other means shall be punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine ranging from CFA francs 150,000 to 900,000 or by one of these two punishments only. Should this result in death, the punishment shall be five to ten years’ imprisonment.
Article 381 – The maximum punishment shall be meted out if the guilty party is a member of the medical or paramedical profession. Moreover, he or she may be disbarred from practice by the courts for up to five years.
Article 382 – Any person who is aware of acts as defined by Article 380 and who fails to notify the competent authorities shall be punishable by a fine ranging from CFA francs 50,000 to 100,000.
Following the adoption of the law in 1996, the National Committee to Fight the Practice of Excision (CNLPE) became a Permanent Secretariat, an official body coordinating all relevant ministries as well as civil society groups working on FGM/C. It operates through a National Action Plan (NAP) adopted by the Council of Ministers.
While bilateral and multilateral donors have been supporting government activities to fight FGM/C based on national action plans since the 1990s, the Government also dedicates resources through the national budget for the CNLPE Permanent Secretariat. Programmes such as the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C support the government in the implementation of a broad range of activities.
The comprehensive National Action Plan covers eight strategic areas: strengthening the institutional and organisational capacity; strengthening the technical competences of actors in the field; information and behaviour change communication; advocacy; comprehensive services for victims; integrating information on FGM in school and vocational training; strengthening the criminal justice response; research, monitoring and evaluation.
In the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 76% of women reported having undergone FGM/C, which shows that the practice remains widespread in Burkina Faso. However, the proportion of cut women decreased significantly from older women (89% at age 45-49) to younger women (58% at age 15-19). While about 25% of girls aged 0-14 have undergone this practice according to the results of the national assessment in 2006, the DHS 2010 data show that the rate decreased to 13.3% of girls in the same age group (0-14 years).
Donor-supported efforts to strengthen law enforcement by providing capacity-building to police and members of the judiciary have led to an increase in law enforcement and judicial response: from 2005 through 2009, the number of people sentenced for FGM/C increased to 686 – 40 cutters and 646 parents; in 2009 alone, the authorities responded to 230 individual cases and halted three planned excisions. Eight cutters and 54 accomplices were arrested in 2009.
Modules on FGM/C have also been introduced in the curricula of primary, secondary and vocational education and have led to an important change in attitudes towards FGM. Statistics published in 2013 show that the vast majority of women, girls, men and boys think that the practice should end.
The personal involvement of the highest political authorities, government, custodians of culture such as village and religious leaders, women’s groups, youth and local councillors and MPs shows that the law has gained high acceptance. This has placed Burkina Faso in a leading position in the fight against FGM/C in Africa.
Some challenges remain, however: the age at which FGM/C is performed on girls has reduced in some communities, as FGM/C is being carried out on infants as a way to evade law enforcement, and parents also travel to neighbouring countries where FGM/C is not criminalised. With improved socio-economic conditions among the population, the deterrent effect of the financial penalty has weakened and this aspect of the law may need to be reviewed in this regard.
This law and the approach to its implementation shows potential as a transferable model in countries where FGM/C is practiced. It shows that when there is political will to tackle this challenge in a comprehensive manner, engaging all stakeholders and addressing the criminal justice dimension, as well as the root causes, progress can be made. Regional cooperation and the implementation of Burkina Faso’s successful approach to tackling FGM/C in neighbouring countries could also remedy one of the current challenges, i.e. the possibility for parents to have the practice performed on their daughters in neighbouring countries where it is legal.
DHS Report Burkina Faso, 2010.
Kabore W., Yaro, Y., Ibrahim, D.M., “Background Study of the Inter-Agency Joint Programme on Violence Against Women: Burkina Faso”, 2008.
United States Department of state “Burkina Faso Human Rights Report”, 2012.
United States Department of State, Burkina Faso: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC), 1 June 2001.
UNFPA/UNICEF, Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change, Scaling up a Comprehensive Approach to Abandonment in 15 African Countries Annual Report, 2012.
Winner of the Silver Future Policy Award 2014.
Interview with Dr Mamadou KANTE, Resident Representative, UNFPA Burkina Faso, featuring scenes from the film "L'excision" by Johanna Richter.
In partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women, Burkina Faso’s law criminalising FGM/C was recognised with the World Future Council's Silver Future Policy Award 2014 on the topic of ending violence against women and girls!