Source: The Observer
Schools in the Sabiny sub-region are championing a cultural behavioral change to eradicate the female genital mutilation (FGM) practice.

FGM is the painful removal of the external female genitalia for non-therapeutic reasons and the practice is aligned to the Sabiny culture in the remote mountainous districts of Kapchorwa, Kween, Bukwo, Nakapiripirit, Moroto and Amudat.

In 2009, parliament passed a law banning FGM but that has not wiped out the vice entirely. This current campaign was sparked off last year when 14-year-old Christine Chelamo was found helplessly swamped in a pool of blood behind one of the classroom blocks at Kortek Girls SS in Riwo sub-country, Bukwo district.

Chelamo, now a senior three student, had just undergone FMG, locally known as 'wonsetap koruk,' and sent to school the following day without medical attention.

Her desperate condition sent waves of panic in schools nearby and brought out more revelations from students who had gone through or were struggling to heal after the mutilation.

"We had to take affirmative action as a school," says Ben Cheptoris, the director of studies at the school. "This girl [Chelamo] and many more were sent here without treatment."

After three days of receiving treatment at Talepa health center, Chelamo was discharged only to be disowned by her parents for 'bringing shame' to the family.

"They [parents] told me to go back where I had been, claiming I had gone against the cultural rituals," says Chelamo, who stays at the school premises with 13 other students, who ran away from their homes for fear of being mutilated.

Kortek SS has joined hands with nearby schools such as Mokoyoni SS and Brim SS to form students associations to fight the vice through anti-FGM-focused lessons held once every week.

"The problem is that elders are not relenting on this practice and that leaves the youth as the victims. The education sector also needs to quickly introduce sex education," Cheptoris adds.

Health experts and personnel from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) visit the schools in the region every fortnight to assess the situation. Doctor Eric Dairo Akinyele, the officer in charge of UNFPA in Uganda, says: "There is simply no place for FGM as we strive to create a future where every girl is able to experience human rights and equality by 2030."

He said this during the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child at Amanan'g playground in Bukwo district. On the same occasion, Stephen Saik, an English teacher at Amanan'g SS, said it is important the fight against FGM starts in schools to help create a new generation that would still hold the good side of the Sabiny culture in the highest regard and drop things like female circumcision.

Meanwhile, Esther Mbayo, the minister for the presidency, says government has already acquired land in Kortek sub- country to build a girls school for FGM victims and teenage mothers, who could be interested in resuming their education.

Part of the celebrations included an anti-FGM marathon in the area.

By James Ssekandi

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