Sierra Leone

Country: Sierra Leone

Population: 6 million

Estimated prevalence among women aged 15-49:

88.3% & 1,471,060 women aged 15+ cut

Data Source MICS 2010
15 – 49 (%) 88.3
15 - 19 (%) 70.1
45 - 49 (%) 96.4
Urban (%) 80.7
Rural (%) 92.4
Lowest Region (%) 72.9
Highest Region (%) 96.3
Nicked, no flesh removed (%) 1.3
Flesh removed (%) 15.2
Sewn closed (%) 79.3
Traditionally performed (%) 96.1
Medically performed (%) 0.6
National law Legal

PRB 2014

Type practised:

Type I and Type II are most commonly practised.

FGC is practised at different ages depending on the ethnic group, ranging from the ages of 3-5, after secondary school or even on babies of only 40 days old. The majority of girls in Sierra Leone are subjected to FGC as a part of the Sande/Bondo secret society initiation, which takes place around the age of puberty. However, in the post-war era very young girls as well as fully grown adults have been subject to the practice.

Legal status:

There is currently no national law prohibiting the practice. A bill outlawing FGC was withdrawn at the last minute in July 2007 and has not resurfaced.

History of FGC in Sierra Leone:

FGC in Sierra Leone originated with the introduction of the Sande/Bondo secret society (an ancient cultural institution with the key locus of channelling and controlling powers of the spirit world). It was established in the 1800s by the powerful Mende ruler Madam Yoko. However, it is thought that FGC existed in West Africa up to two thousand years prior to Mammy Yoko’s reign.

Current efforts to abandon FGC:

There are various domestic campaigns led by Sierra Leonean women, particularly students, and by INGOs such as Plan. The majority of these women state that there are no benefits to FGC, and therefore the practice should end. The prevalence rate has decreased from 96% amongst 45-49 year olds, to 80% amongst 15-19 year olds.

Recent international efforts include the 2012 Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council of the State of Human Rights in Sierra Leone. This called for the immediate elimination, prohibition and criminalisation of female genital cutting. However, the Government of Sierra Leone has yet to accept this recommendation, thus hindering the progress of the anti-FGC movement in the country.

Ongoing challenges:

Some politicians in favour of FGC are alleged to have openly supported and even funded initiation into the Bondo society to appeal to voters. The social and economic influence of the Bondo society perpetuates FGC in Sierra Leone and often results in a hostile response against abandonment campaigns, labelled cultural imperialism when from external sources.

This is mirrored by the acceptance rate of citizens in Sierra Leone. Whilst 45% of boys and men believe FGC should continue, 66% of girls and women believe FGC should continue in the country.

Additional information:

Sierra Leone’s difficult recent past includes various coups and political unrest, resulting in 10 years of civil war from 1991-2001. The years 2004-2012 have seen a number of ex Sierra Leonean leaders convicted of war crimes, while in 2012 the former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes in the Sierra Leone civil war after a five year trial in The Hague. The last 20 years of unrest has unsurprisingly side-lined various women’s rights issues in Sierra Leone, which have only recently begun to be methodically addressed.

Major ethnic groups:

Temne – 35%

Mende – 31%

Limba – 8%

Kono – 5%

Kriole – 2% (descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area in the late-18th century; also known as Krio)

Mandingo – 2%

Loko – 2%

Other – 15% (includes refugees from Liberia's recent civil war, and small numbers of Europeans, Lebanese, Pakistanis, and Indians)


English, Mende, Temne, Krio

Major religions:

Islam 60%

Christian 10%

Indigenous beliefs 30%

News and Blogs:

Manana, Sierra Leone

In the news:

BBC News - Sierra Leone cutter on FGC: "It's a great and ancient tradition"

Awoko - UNFPA 's Adolescent Girls Symposium with the theme: Invest in Girls for Progress in Sierra Leone: Improving Data for Girls’ Empowerment

The Guardian - FGC returns to Sierra Leone despite ban imposed after the 2014 Ebola outbreak

Anadolu Agency - Whilst neighbouring countries are moving to ban FGC, Sierra Leone's constitution is undergoing a review process, anti-FGC activists are hoping for a ban to be established

Sierra Leone Telegraph - Lawyer, Mariama Dumbuya, discusses why FGC should be legally banned for girls under the age of 18

Global Times - Bondo women demonstrate against campaigns against FGC that use 'derogatory' language about the Bondo Society, resist government ban on FGC

Sierra Leone Telegraph - Minister of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children's Affairs likens FGC to labiaplasty in Western countries, says consenting adults over 18 can choose to undergo FGC

Huffington Post - Sarian Karim Kamara: 'Even though the clitoris has been removed, that doesn't stop us from having full capacity of pleasure.'

Awareness Times - Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden calls for the preservation of the Bondo society and its traditions announcing 'Bondo is bigger than FGM'

Vice News - FGC in Sierra Leone ended because of Ebola campaign, not anti-FGC campaigns or shift in sociocultural norms

Awoko - Girl to Girl empowerment movement in unison with British Government and other NGOs collaboratively worked together to launch the 'Dream Project'

LEP - One girl's story about fleeing Sierra Leone and her own family

VOA - Sierra Leone FGC advocacy group working to spread awareness throughout country

Amref - Amref Health Africa asks Sierra Leone to protect girls from FGC

The Guardian –  Fighting FGC in Sierra Leone: Ebola free? and World Humanitarian Day

Business Insider UK – Secret societies perpetuating FGC

The Guardian –  Living in fear of FGC in Sierra Leone: 'I'm not safe in this community' (video)

The Guardian – Secret FGC societies spread silent fear and sleepless nights

Huffington Post – Sierra Leone backs an international treaty on the rights of women in Africa, hope for law banning FGC in country

Awoko – Parliament unanimously ratifies the Maputo Protocol to strengthen existing legislation on women's and children's rights, discourages teenage FGC

The Voice - Sierra Leonian nurse honoured by the Queen in her Birthday Honours List for her work in campaigning to end FGC

Al Jazeera America - Ebola fears bring FGC to a near halt

Anglican News - Report shines light on secretive practice

UN - Statement on the death of a nine year old girl

Awoko - Gender Minister assures Maputo Protocol ratification

Awoko - Maputo Protocol assessment mission in Sierra Leone

FIGO - FGC 'lucrative' in Sierra Leone

All Africa - Northern region tops FGC activities

Awareness Times - Zero tolerance on FGC observed in Sierra Leone

Awoko - Call for 'Bondo bushes' to be transformed into skills centres

All Africa - The political battle on FGC

Sierra Express Media – Reversing FGC in Africa

Sierra Express – Woman escapes FGC with daughter, rejects Sowei

Awoko – Women and Children’s Rights Officer in the Human Right Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) Gloria Bayor calls on government to implement new law to complement efforts of Commission to train staff to monitor and report female genital mutilation

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