By Steven Ariong in Amudat, Northern Uganda
At least 300 primary school girls attending a boarding school here in Amudat have refused to break off for holidays fearing they will be forced by their parents to be circumcised. The girls, who are pupils at Kalas Girls Primary School, say they fear once they leave school and return home, their parents would force them to go through a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) exercise.
The girls are mainly those who ran away from their homes early last year and took refuge in the office of the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) after their parents reportedly tried to initiate the circumcision exercise in Amudat, 250 miles (400 kilometres) northeast of Kampala. After fleeing their homes, they were accommodated in the boarding section of Kalas Girls School and have since been under the care of the RDC Stephen Nsubuga Beewayo.
During a closing ceremony of the school’s second term last Friday, the girls refused to leave the school compound with other children saying they feared to return to their parents. “We ran away from our parents to the RDC’s office because we wanted to avoid the female genital mutilation exercise that would have been forced on us had we returned home,” one of the girls, Mary Cherop said. She added: “If we go back home, our parents will beat us and force us to go through the practice.”
Cherop (approx 11yrs) who is currently in Primary Four, said it is better for them to stay in school and return to their parents only after graduating. Betty Chelangat, another of the 300 girls appealed to government and development agencies to support them with basic needs such as clothes, books and food. “We shall continue to stay at the school even when school close for Christmas holidays because we want to be safe,” she said. The girls revealed they cannot dare go and live with their relatives as all of them are in support of FGM.
Confirming the girls had refused to return home to their parents for school holidays, RDC Beewayo said he needed help to continue supporting them. “They ran to my office for rescue and I was the one who took them to boarding school. I am calling for development partners to come in and help support the girls,” he said.
FGM is the partial or total removal of the clitoris from young girls. The practice is seasonally carried out, especially in Sebei, Pokot and Tepeth in Moroto District. Last year, 200 girls aged between 8-14 years were forced by their parents to go through FGM in Pokot region alone.
In 2012, the Ugandan Government banned the practice. Those who offend face 10 years in prison. But were any of the girls to die during an FGM ceremony, those involved could get a life sentence. But this has not scared anyone in the area here from continuing to mutilate the girls.