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Combating harmful traditional practices

© UNICEF/MLIA2009-00250/Pirozzi
A Fulani Peul mother and daughter rest in a hut in the village of Soufroulaye, Mopti Region. Traditional facial tattoos, shown here around her lips, is considered a harmful traditional practice.

The Mali-UNICEF country programme works to raise awareness of harmful traditional practices as a means of child protection; these particularly include female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and early or forced marriage.

Our objective is to contribute to reduce the prevalence of FGM/C and the rate of child marriage and make programmes and services available to women and girls to manage and mitigate health complications related to FGM/C and early marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)/Cutting
FGM/C, or excision, is a traditional practice that is harmful to the health of women and girls. The procedure is often performed by a local excisor in the family home, where sanitary conditions and sterile instruments are usually lacking. While FGM/C was once more a rite of passage practiced on teenage girls, excision is now practiced on girls ranging in age from infancy to later marriage.

According to the Population and Health Survey (PHS-IV), 85.3 per cent of women in Mali aged 15-49 have undergone excision; and according to the national study on the practice of excision sponsored by the PNLE in 2009, 84 per cent of female children between 0-14 years have undergone the traditional practice.

Physical consequences include bleeding, infection, acute urinary retention, urinary incontinence, menstrual pain, fistula, difficult births, sterility and death. The procedure is usually performed without anaesthesia, causing excruciating pain and trauma.

Psychosocial consequences include chronic anxiety, feelings of fear, humiliation or betrayal, stress, loss of self-esteem, depression, phobias, panic attacks, nightmares, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, mood and cognition disorders, weight loss or excessive weight gain and negative body image are common.
 
Contrary to popular misconception, excision is not prescribed by religion.

© UNICEF/MLIA2009-00291/Pirozzi
Sy Kadidia Touré, of the local NGO Action Mopti, councils a group of young girls regarding serious complications of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Early marriage of children

Early marriage is defined as a union between a man and a girl less than 18 years of age. According to the Population and Health Survey (PHS-IV) in 2006, 60.8 per cent of women who were between 15 and 49 years of age at the time of the survey were married by age 15. In some regions of Mali, girls are married as young as age 10.  It is common practice in Mali for a girl of 14 years to marry a man twice her age.

Once a girl is promised in marriage, or is officially married, she is often withdrawn from school to play her role as wife and mother at home. It is rare for a girl to continue her schooling once she becomes pregnant. Termination of primary education due to early marriage or pregnancy is counter-intuitive to UNICEF Mali’s push for child-friendly schools and equitable education for girls and boys.

Adolescent mothers have an increased probabilty of medical complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Scaring, fistula, physiological development disorders and sexual dysfunctions, infertility, disruption of growth, physical trauma and a high rate of maternal, neonatal and infant morbidity and mortality are common complications.

"Testimony by F A.: I was about 14 years old when I was taken to visit an aunt beyond the river. When we arrived there, I was introduced to her son as my husband. I was afraid of him. At night when my so-called husband wanted to touch me, I started screaming; he finally hit me before sleeping with me by force. And that is how it continued every night. I managed to run away, but my parents brought me back. I had a baby boy for this man in suffering and pain without ever loving him. Finally, I was quite traumatized; they took me back to my parents and my father is now taking care of me. Our divorce was finalized three months ago, and now things look better. But the trauma has caused a blockage in me, because I cannot remember many things."
 

 

 
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