Burkina Faso Study
In 2000, Rights and Humanity undertook research in Burkina Faso, West Africa, to review the experience of the introduction of a penal provision to prohibit female genital cutting (FGC). The aim of the study was to identify strategies that could be useful to other countries in their efforts to eliminate FGC.
Burkina Faso’s Commitment to Eradicating FGC
The Government of Burkina Faso had a strong commitment to eradicating FGC. In 1996, Burkina Faso had passed an amendment to the penal code, which explicitly prohibited FGC. In the early years following the introduction of this penal measure, Burkina Faso’s law was held up as a potential model for a legislative approach in other countries. Rights and Humanity undertook research in Burkina Faso to ascertain the impact of this law.
Research and Analysis
The research took place in 2000, and involved library and internet research and a Mission to Burkina Faso to identify causes and effects of FGC and the impact of the penal law.
The Mission was conducted in co-operation with the governmental department responsible in Burkina Faso, Le Comité National de la Lutte Contre la Pratique de l’Excision (CNLPE). The Mission was undertaken by our President and Madame Ursula Hemmerich-Barter, Rights and Humanity’s Geneva Liaison Officer, who acted as interpreter.
Through this case study we examined:
- the extent to which the new law and its enforcement was acting as a preventative measure
- whether the legislative provision had acted as an impetus for change in behaviour
- or whether other factors have played a more significant role.
The study analysed the reasons for perceived success of the law in order to determine whether a similar strategy of criminalisation would be effective elsewhere.
Rights and Humanity’s 120 page Final Report identified the socio-cultural reasons for the practice, emphasising that FGC was a cultural, not a religious, tradition. We reviewed the serious short and long term health consequences of FGC and highlighted the strategies and good practices adopted in Burkina Faso that could be of benefit to other countries working to eradicate the practice.
Burkina Faso Study Conclusions
Rights and Humanity’s study on the impact of the introduction of a penal law to combat FGC undertaken in Burkina Faso in 2000, addressed three questions.
1)Was the process of enactment unique to Burkina Faso?
There were particular factors arising from the history of Burkina Faso and its society that greatly contributed to the successful introduction of the penal law to prohibit FGC and which might not be present in other countries. These included the widespread respect for law and the willingness to co-operate with others. This meant that the Burkinabè people were by and large willing to follow their Government’s lead in prohibiting this traditional practice.
The existing legal framework protecting human rights and women’s rights in particular were conducive to the law reform. The strategic partnerships developed by Le Comité National de la Lutte Contre la Pratique de l’Excision (CNLPE) had played an important role. CNLPE had involved all sectors of society including traditional chiefs and religious leaders. These partnerships had been particularly significant in ensuring acceptance of the new law.
2)Was the law a success?
It was widely considered by interviewees that the public awareness campaign and the introduction of the law had led to a reduction in the practice of FGC. The introduction of a criminal law provided for the punishment of transgressors, which in itself acted as a deterrent, complementing the accompanying public awareness programme.
It appeared that the combined strategies of law and public awareness had had a greater effect in the urban areas - where there was more access to education generally - than in rural communities.
3)Did the law provide a legislative model for other countries?
Although all those interviewed welcomed the law, it raised some difficulties in terms of penalising families that practised FGC believing that they were acting in the best interests of their daughters. As a result, courts were reluctant to send parents and circumcisers to prison, which led some police to complain that their efforts in tracing and arresting violators of the law had been in vain.
Other disadvantages of the criminal law included the tendency to push the practice underground, cross-border cases of FGC and a reduction in the age of initiates.
While there can be no blueprint of strategies applicable everywhere, our study of Burkina Faso’s law could provide some help in shaping national debates in other countries. The strengths of the Burkinabè campaign and the strategies used, including the introduction of the penal law, all provided models for other countries to emulate.